Appeal Decision: City Press vs African National Congress


Wed, Dec 18, 2019

In the matter between

CITY PRESS                                                                             APPLICANT

AND

AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS                                    RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 4335/03/2019

DECISION ON APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

  1. City Press (“applicant”) seeks leave to appeal the Ruling of the Press Ombud, dated 30 October 2019. The Ruling upheld the complaint by the African National Congress (“ANC/respondent”) against the applicant. The complaint was against the following headline to a story published by the applicant, imputed to the respondent’s Secretary-General, Mr Magashule: “We do not need white votes”. The respondent had no problems with the content of the story, which was based on an interview the journalist had had with Mr Magashule. The complaint was that the headline was inaccurate; it violated clause 10.1 of the Press Code which stipulates that “Headlines and captions … shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report”.
  2. The applicant’s contention was that the headline was a reasonable reflection of the content of the story. The Ombud disagreed; found the applicant to be in breach of the clause, and imposed a sanction in the form of a correction and an apology to Mr Magashule. The applicant now seeks leave to appeal the Ruling.
  3. In contending that the headline was a reasonable reflection of the story, the applicant relies mainly on the following words by Mr Magashule, contained in the story:

But I am saying that the majority of our people and votes are those who were oppressed – blacks in general. There are whites who believe in democracy and non-racialism. They have been there for many years. But to think that whites, generally, will vote for the ANC this time around, for me, does not make sense. Our hope is not based on colour, and therefore people cannot say that whites this time are going to vote ANC – as if blacks are not actually going to vote ANC”. The applicant: “Mr Magashule also stated that whites did not even vote for the ANC at the time of Mandela – who was very popular among all race groups – implying that there is no necessity to chase the white vote now”. The respondent then tabulated some points which it says were not disputed by Mr Magashule; e.g, that he disputed the statement by his Gauteng colleague that research showed that more whites would vote for the applicant; that it cannot be said whites “are going to vote for the ANC, as if black people are not going to vote”; etc.

  1. I agree with the Ruling of the Ombud, and the reasons she gives. But I must also add that the jump the applicant makes from what Mr Magashule said to the headline, including the facts which the applicant says are not in dispute, is too huge. The thrust of Mr Magashule’s statement and everything he said, was that there had always been white people who voted for the ANC, although black votes were in the majority. This is apparent from the emphasized portions of his statement:

4.1 “… the majority of our people and votes are those who were oppressed….”  (Own emphasis): It is clear that what he says is that among his people and votes are those of whites.

4.2 The phrases “…. blacks in general…”  and “...whites, generally (own emphasis) convey exactly what they say; they generalise, namely, that there are some black who would vote for the ANC while others would not; similarly, there would be whites who would do the same.

4.3 There are whites who believe in democracy and non-racialism… (Own emphasis) To me, far from saying he does not want white votes, Mr Magashule is infact soliciting their votes by complimenting them as being democratic ( in voting for his party)! 4.4 Our hope is not based on colour…” (Own emphasis) That Mr Magushule said his party needed votes across colour lines could not have come out clearer.

The emphasized portions are entirely inconsistent with the headline “We do not need white votes”.  Really, when he says expressly that their hope is not based only on colour (read black voters)? It is obvious the hope extended beyond blacks (to include white votes, which he therefore needed). This is also why the statement “implying that there is no necessity to chase the white vote now” is problematic. In my view, the essence of what Mr Magashule was saying was that he disagreed with the suggestion that because Mr Ramaphosa had become the President of the ANC, there would  now be a huge surge of white votes for the party. Rightly or wrongly, what he said was that there had in the past always been many white votes for his party, and that that was still going to be the case. Therefore, even if it is accepted that he disagreed with his Gauteng colleague, he cannot reasonably be understood as saying what the headline says. In my view, to attribute such a headline to a party’s Secretary-General was quite serious and reckless, given firstly, the fact that the elections were around the corner and, secondly, that the elections were seen at the time as one of the highly contested if not the mostly contested since 1994. Thirdly, the number of white votes, which the headline said the ANC did not want, ran into millions; it was not an insignificant number and as they sometimes say, every vote counts. Finally, and in passing, I opine that the headline could possibly have been reflective of the content of the story if the story was that Mr Magashule said the ANC was confident of victory on the back of black votes only; that was, however, not the case. The story does not say that.

  1. For the application to succeed, the applicant must show reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel. For the reasons stated above as well as those by the Ombud, I hold that there are no such prospects. The application is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 18h day of December 2019.

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel