The next day after that traumatic court experience, I went to the office a dejected person. I realised, after we had been acquitted and discharged by the court, that my Editor, Mr Provencal, was disappointed in me.
I detected that from his body language. I knew why he was upset — not because I had caused him to be dragged to court, but because I failed to tell him the truth concerning the story that had landed The Mirror in trouble.
I was not brought up that way, but circumstances at that time made me do the contrary. I realised that if I decided to open up and spill the beans, some senior colleagues would be in trouble because they misled and encouraged me to write the story without the actual court proceedings. Worst of all, they did not offer me any professional guidance while doing that. Well, I, therefore, decided to suffer the consequences.
Later in the afternoon, all members of staff in the unit were summoned to a meeting. The Editor briefed the house about the outcome of the contempt case and told them that I had been economical with the truth.
He explained that if I had told him the truth, he would have approached the issue in a different way, by seeking an out-of-court settlement.
He, however, said the assurance made to him that I had been in court when the drama unfolded, had ecouraged him to accompany me to the court to fight the case.
The long and short of this story was that, the Editor dropped a bombshell. He informed all that as a result of my misdemeanour, he had decided to send me back to the National Service Secretariat for reposting.
Immediately I heard that, I felt some rumblings in my stomach, as if there was some kind of civil war in there. I could not believe what I had just heard.
I also realised from the body language of all present at the meeting, who were also dumbfounded, that the Editor’s decision did not sit well with them.
Before I could plead for clemency, the team members, in unison, jumped to my rescue and started pleading on my behalf, arguing that I was a promising journalist, who had by deed, exhibited hard work and selflessness.
They eventually succeeded in persuading the Editor to rescind his decision. He was, however, bent on meting out some punishment to me, and in the end I was suspended for two weeks.
I went home with a long face and informed my family about my ‘ordeal’. They encouraged me to put that unfortunate incident behind me and forge ahead, since there were better days ahead.
Even though I found that development painful and a dent on my young career, I learnt a lesson from it.
It was after that episode that I, Vance Azu, resolved, never to craft any story or report on any event that I had not witnessed, heard with my own ears or read with my own eyes.
That resolution helped me a lot, and since that incident, almost 30 years after, I have never offended the law of libel or misreported; nor have any of my stories attracted a rejoinder, or the contents of what I have writen been repudiated. I have learnt to be meticulous and always cross-check my facts; striving to present fair and balanced stories.
The court case rather made me a better reporter, and through my numerous front page stories, I “won souls” for The Mirror, and made great friends.
The court experience was a very useful one, and I have never hesitated to share with my colleague journalists, especially interns and national service persons posted to The Mirror, the Daily Graphic or any of the other brands of the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), the benefits of that experience. I know this has helped them in the discharge of their duties professionally.
Now, as the Night Editor of the Daily Graphic, many of such young journalists within the GCGL and others practising journalism elsewhere, always call and tell me how that story has impacted them, and saved them many times from being cited for libel or slander.
The writer is the Night Editor of the Daily Graphic