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News24 team wins 15th Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism.

- Wits University

News24 journalists, Jeff Wicks and Kyle Cowan are winners of the 2020 Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism.

Wits Journalism together with the Valley Trust hosted the annual Taco Kuiper Awards for Investigative Journalism online today, 15 April 2021.

Speaking at the awards, Professor Dan Ojwang, Head of the School of Literature, Language and Media where Wits Journalism is housed, said they were proud to be associated with the awards as they “play an important function in holding the powerful to account, in shining a torch on matters of public interest, which would otherwise remain hidden.”

News24 journalists, Jeff Wicks and Kyle Cowan were announced winners of the 2020 Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism, the country’s largest journalism prize. They won it for Killing Kinnear, their ground-breaking investigation into who killed the section commander of Cape Town’s gang unit, Charl Kinnear. The pair won R200 000 for their investigation.

Jeff Wicks and Kyle Cowan, winners of the 2020 Taco Kuiper Award

In their investigation, the reporters used cutting-edge digital forensic tools to track down a key figure in the assassination of Charl Kinnear. They tracked and mapped how a private investigator used illegal Location Based Services to follow Kinnear until shortly before his death, as well as a number of other people.

“The report revealed how police had failed to protect Kinnear and the cellphone service providers had allowed this to happen. It was a show of tremendous journalism skill, demonstrating the power of new digital tools, for both good and bad. It led to the arrest of the private investigator and forced the cellphone companies to take action to stop this activity,” said the Judges.

Wicks said he was honoured to win the 2020 Taco Kuiper Award. “I consider it to be one of the highest points of my career.”

Runner-up in the award was Carte Blanche’s Tarryn Crossman for her story Midwife Investigation, which exposed a senior and well-known midwife who was using harmful drugs to induce labour without patients’ consent, leading to problematic births and even deaths. "It was a powerful and important exposé, skillfully told," the Judges said. Crossman won R100 000 as the runner-up. 

Tarryn Crossman, runner-up of 2020 Taco Kuiper Investigative Journalism Award

Eliot Higgins, founder of online investigation group Bellingcat delivered the keynote address at the awards ceremony. In his address, Higgins shed light on open source investigation and highlighted the importance of networking and forming online communities of people who are interested in the same topic.

“Bellingcat showed the value of networking and not only relying on the traditional source of authorities for investigation. If we can start doing that as journalist, we can do great investigations.” 

The judges said that it was important to see that investigative journalism was still showing how important and valuable it was, despite the toughest of conditions.

“What is most extraordinary is that in this time, investigative journalists were continuing their essential work despite having to work under the hostile conditions of the pandemic and the severe financial difficulties of the news media industry. What we found was that journalists continue to tackle a wide range of social, political, economic and environmental issues and hold accountable those who wield power,” said Professor Anton Harbour, convener of judges.

While there was excellent work to be recognized, the judges did note, though, that it appeared the decimation of newsrooms had taken its toll on the quality of editing, noted the judges.

The competition received 18 entries from 11 outlets, most of them published first online, and five from television outlets. These covered a healthy range of topics, the judges said, including environmental issues, medical malpractice, internet abuse, prison conditions, farm labour, sexual abuse, small town politics and of course corruption.

The Taco Kuiper Award has for 15 years recognized the best exemplar of investigative journalism in South Africa that year. It is run by Wits Journalism in partnership with the Valley Trust, to commemorate the late publisher Taco Kuiper.