Aifheli Makhwanya vs. City Press


Thu, May 3, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

3 May 2018

 

PARTICULARS

 

Complainants

 

 

Aifheli Makhwanya, Head of Compliance and Research at the National Film and Video Foundation

 

 

Lodged by

 

 

Makhwanya, in her personal capacity

 

Date of article

 

 

18 March 2018

 

Headline

 

 

‘Hit list’ claim rocks state film body

 

Online

 

 

Yes

 

Author of article

 

 

Charl Blignaut

 

Respondent

 

 

Dumisane Lubisi, executive editor

Complaint                                            

Makhwanya complains that the:

·         article got the definition of “OD”, described as an organisation development process, wrong;

·         story placed her as a whistle-blower and/or a source – which has damaged her reputation; and

·         journalist did not afford her a right of reply.

The text

The introductory sentence read, “Distraught staff at state film body the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) this week wrote another letter to arts minister Nathi Mthethwa begging him to intervene as whistle-blowers among them are facing retrenchment in a restructuring process implemented by CEO Zama Mkosi.”

Blignaut reported that, in a staff letter, 92% of NFVF staff members (excluding senior management) had painted a grim picture of a “dismal and deteriorating state of affairs” with “morale at its all-time lowest” at the organisation.

Members of staff were reportedly facing retrenchment, “apparently for blowing the whistle by sending an earlier letter to the minister in March last year and for talking to City Press”, he wrote.

The journalist cited an “impeccable source” close to the process who had presented the newspaper with evidence of “a hit list” of employees who had to be retrenched. According to this source, these people “were the suspected masterminds of the complaints document that was sent to the minister”.

He also named Makhwanya as one of the people on that list.

The NFVF reportedly did not respond to questions put to it by the newspaper.

Analysis

In general, Lubisi says the story in question formed part of a series of articles in which City Press has reported on the NFVF. “In the process, the NFVF management has banned staff members from speaking to the media and we believe that the complaint is, in part, designed to … get us to expose our sources,” he submits.

‘Definition’ of ‘OD’

Because Makhwanya complains in her personal capacity, she does not have the standing to complain about the description of the OD, which is an organisational matter – except, of course, if she has permission from NFVF to do so.

I have no proof of such permission.

Source; integrity in question

The article said, “Mkosi did not provide reasons but the source says they were suspected masterminds of the complaints document that was sent to the Minister”; the story also said her name was on the “hit list”.

Makhwanya complains that the reportage has questioned her professional integrity, ethics and standing as it has portrayed her as one of the alleged “masterminds” behind the document that had been sent to the Minister.

Lubisi says the:

·         relevant document clearly showed which positions were to be affected by the OD process as well as the proposed new structure – and Makhwanya’s position was on the list of the affected positions;

·         newspaper used more than one source who provided and confirmed the names on the list; and

·         same names of the people the story mentioned who were to be affected by the OD process were also confirmed on record by Nehawu’s representative.

The editor agrees that Makhwanya was present when the first “hit list” was discussed. While her name indeed did not feature in the original list, a reliable source informed the newspaper that Mkosi subsequently added it to the list – to which Makhwanya was not privy.

Lubisi also denies that Makhwanya was a source, adding that the article did not either state or insinuate that she was. He explains that Makhwanya was not the only member of staff who formed part of the senior management where the OD process was presented, “and she fails to explain how a reasonable reader could conclude that she was the source of the information that City Press relied on”.

I agree with the editor’s reasoning. I also have no reason to disbelieve the source on this issue, and I need to take into account documentation proved that Makhwahnya’s position was involved.

If City Press has done anything wrong in this respect, Makhwahnya is yet to provide evidence to this effect.

Right of reply

Makhwanya herself admits that she was not allowed to speak to the media. She says, “I did see the questions that were directed to the CEO and the head of marketing and communications (Peter Kwele) who by company policy are the only persons authorised to speak on behalf of the company.”

This means that, in fact, she is complaining that the newspaper followed company policy. I fail to see how this makes sense, and how I can find against the newspaper under such circumstances.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

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