Misleading Reporting

Some of you may have read the article in the Weekend Argus and Sunday Tribune this weekend which covered the case of Norma Worsley’s murder and the outstanding DNA tests relative to the case. The headline read “DNA still hasn’t been tested two years on, with lab’s backlog at 16200”

What does this headline mean to you? People who have contacted me since reading that article have said that they were shocked that there were so many DNA tests outstanding. Everyone I have asked as to what that means have said the same thing.

The Reporter of the article in question has quoted me out of context and has misled the public into believing that 16200 DNA tests are in backlog. Having gone to great lengths to explain what these figures meant to the reporter last week, it has become necessary for me to re-clarify the situation for the benefit of the public, who are entitled to responsible and accurate reporting.

The figure of 16200 cases (not tests) was the overall backlog for the ENTIRE Forensic Science Laboratory (“FSL”) at March 2011 and not just DNA. The FSL consists of several units, namely chemistry, questioned documents,  ballistics, fingerprints as well as DNA (Biology). The figure of 16200 should therefore not have been used in relation to Biology (DNA) alone because it does not relate to Biology (DNA) — in fact in the DNA unit, it has been reported that they no longer have a backlog. The way it was reported was misleading and out of context as it implies that there are 16200 DNA “samples’ in backlog which is NOT what I said and I therefore should not have been quoted on saying same. In addition the overall backlog within the Forensic Science Laboratory decreased by 19,25% from 59 023 to 47 660 during the 2009/2010 financial year and declined significantly with a further 66% from 47 660 un-assigned entries on the 1st of April 2010 to 16 200 as on the 31st of March 2011, which is the lowest figure recorded since March 2009. In the 2010/2011 financial year, the backlog in the Questioned Documents Unit decreased by 8,4%,   Scientific Analysis decreased by 6,7% and in the Chemistry Unit the backlog decreased by 54,9%.  The units which recorded the most significant decline in backlog were in fact DNA (Biology) and Ballistics  with a decrease of 82,7% and  81,5% respectively.

The above information shows the significant inroads the FSL have made into the backlogs in all units, as well as DNA, and this unfortunately was not made clear in the article in question.

The real issue, which is the outstanding case in this matter, was also referred back to the Biology Unit on Friday and despite being given less than 24 hours to respond, they did in fact send a response to the reporter which showed that the delay in this instance was due to the prosecutor and not due to any ‘backlog’. This information was not however reported, the writer instead opting to imply to the public that the case was simply part of a backlog of 16200 cases.

With the imminent review of the DNA Bill, it is unfortunate that the reporter did not highlight the lengths the FSL have been going to in the past year to not only decrease the backlogs, but to increase capacity to prepare properly for the promulgation of the new DNA Bill when (and if)  it occurs. The delay which the public may have more interest in, is with respect, the failure by the Portfolio Committee of Police to review the DNA Bill which has been sitting in Parliament since 2008.

The Committee returned from a 2 week overseas study tour in July 2011 which spanned two continents, several 5 star hotels and business class travel, and we have yet to hear from them in respect of their findings or when they intend to resume reviewing the DNA Bill. I believe pressure should be brought to bear on those members of Parliament to report to the public on their intentions with regard to this urgently required legislation.

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