Abubekir Salim vs. Sowetan


Mon, Jun 18, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

18 June 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Complainant

 

 

Mr Abubekir Salim

 

 

Lodged by

 

 

Mr Chabo Freddy Pilusa

 

Date of article

 

 

3 May 2018

 

Headline

 

 

Turkish men wanted for mine fraud – Plunder of colliery includes kidnap and court dramas

 

 

Page

 

 

6

 

Online

 

 

Yes

 

Author of article

 

 

Isaac Mahlanga

 

Respondent

 

Wendy Pretorius, managing editor

Complaint                                            

Salim complains that the:

·         story was inaccurate, unfair and misleading; and

·         journalist did not ask him for comment.

The text

The article said that two Turkish businessmen, Salim and Mr Mehmet Selim Kaymak, were facing charges of fraud, forgery and theft for embezzling funds from a Mpumalanga colliery, and that they were wanted by the Police.

The charges reportedly related to the alleged embezzlement of money belonging to Sumo Coal, “a company which they both worked for”. The previous week, the story continued, the North Gauteng High Court had removed the two men as directors of two subsidiaries of Sumo Coal.

Mahlanga wrote that the Sandton Police had confirmed that the men had warrants of arrest issued against them.

The arguments

Sowetan disputes that the article was inaccurate, unfair and misleading.

Pretorius says the article was a report about court proceedings in the North Gauteng High Court and that details were taken from the court papers, warrants of arrest for the two men, and affidavits.

She says the Police have confirmed the warrants of arrest on charges of fraud, forgery and theft, dated 2 May 2018, a day prior to publication of the article.

The managing editor adds that Sowetan tried to contact Salim at Sumo Coal on a Middelburg telefax office number, but says that call was not answered (and the journalist left a message).

Pilusa replies that Sowetan has “deliberately ignored” an order of the court that set aside the order which they solely based their story on.

He says that not only did the newspaper make no effort to contact Salim for his comments, but it also did not contact the latter’s attorney on record (Mr Piet du Plessis) for comment – while both of them were in a position to set the record straight.

He adds that the headline was misleading and faulty, as the conversation with the NPA makes clear as the complainant was never “wanted”, as stated in the story.

Pilusa concludes that Salim had nothing to do with Sumo. “They could have had this verified had they attempted to contact the complainant or his attorney,” he says.

Analysis

It is difficult, if not impossible, to adjudicate a complaint as vague as this one – the initial document did not specify exactly what was “inaccurate, unfair and misleading”. However, in correspondence following Sowetan’s response, Pilusa did clarify the complaint to some extent.

The crux of the matter seems to be that Sowetan has based its story on a court order that had been set aside, and that it was untrue that the two men were “wanted” by the Police.

To be fair towards both parties and in order to expedite matters, I am proceeding with my adjudication even though Sowetan did not have the opportunity to respond to these more defined complaints. However, if I find that the newspaper has a case to answer for, I shall give it the opportunity to do so before finalising my ruling.

Firstly, I am looking at what information was at the newspaper’s disposal at the time of publication:

·         A magistrate had properly signed the warrants of arrest on May 2 (a day before the publication of the story in dispute);

·         A Police captain had confirmed that warrants of arrest had been issued against the two men; and

·         A court order by the North Gauteng High Court, dated 24 April 2018, stated that the two men had to be removed as directors of two subsidiaries of Sumo Coal.

Also, the media are not required to ask a person against whom a warrant of arrest has been issued for comment before they can report that fact.

Given the above, Sowetan’s reportage was justified.

However, there were important developments after publication:

·         On May 4, the court order of April 24 was set aside, at least to some extent; and

·         On May 6, du Plessis, wrote that a decision had been taken to postpone the execution of the warrants.

Sowetan is duty-bound to report these new developments, as stated in Section 1.9 of the Code: “…reports should be supplemented once new information becomes available.”

Salim can complain again to this office, based on Section 1.9, if Sowetan does not comply with this requirement within a reasonable time.

Finding

At the time of publication, Sowetan’s reportage was accurate and fair. The complaint is therefore dismissed.

However, Salim can complain again if the newspaper does not supplement its reportage accordingly, as outlined above – if it has not done so already.

Appeal

The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombud