Black First Land First vs. News24

Thu, Oct 12, 2017

In the matter of

BLACK FIRST LAND FIRST                                                                            APPLICANT


NEWS 24                                                                                                         RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 3441/08/2017


1.       In his Ruling dated 29 August 2017, the Press Ombud dismissed in it’s entirety a complaint by Black First Land First (“applicant”) which had been filed with the Ombud against News 24 (“respondent”); hence this applicantion.

2.       The complaint was lodged against an online publication by the respondent on 24 July 2017 with the headline: “GuptaLeaks: Gupta spin machine commissioned BLF’s Mngxitama”.  The article was a report on certain emails allegedly linked to the Guptas which, amongst others revealed that Mr Mngxitama, who describes himself as President of the applicant, was asked to do certain things in the furtherance or protection of the Guptas, including writing certain (unflattering) articles about some editors.  The report said that Mngxitama had asked the family for funding, despite his denial.  The complaint was pretty detailed, and alleged breach of several sections of the Press Code.  The applicant asked for an examplery sanction to be imposed.

3.       In his Ruling, the Ombud summarized, succinctly, the complaints as follows:

“l   story contained several inaccurate and unsubstantiated statements .... and

l journalist did not afform him a right of reply.”

It was also argued that the reportage was untruthful, inaccurate and unfair, unbalanced, an opinion stated as a fact, unverified and that applicants dignity and reputation was tarnished. In its defence, respondent argued, inter alia, that the emails were authentic and that Mr Mngxitama was given the opportunity to respondent.  It was stated that not only was he spoken to on telephone, but also that questions were emailed to him.

4.       Despite the prolific documentation submitted, the are really only two crisp issues for consideration.

4.1 The first issue is the dispute about the authenticity of the emails. In dealing with this, the Ombud correctly emphasized the following point:

The story did not say or imply that the allegations contained in the e-mails were materially true, it merely stated (as fact) that those allegations were made.  It was left to the reader to decide whether what was said in the e-mails were true, or not.”

What the Ombud says is exactly what comes out of an objective reading of the e-mails.  That being the case, a debate about whether or not the e-mails are authentic is irrelevant.  The readers would themselves formulate their own views about the authenticity of the e-mails, some of which are in any case not so clear. 

4.2 The second issue is whether or not Mr Mngxitama was given the opportunity to respond. There is no basis to interfere with the Ombud on his finding that Mr Mngxitama was given the right to respond.  The evidence that the e-mail with questions was sent to him, is simply overwhelming.  The Appeals Panel would need justification to overturn the Ombud, which justification is not apparent.

5.       For an application for leave to appeal to succeed, an applicant must show reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel. For the reasons given above, read together with those given in detail by the Ombud, I am afraid no such prospects exist; the application is therefore turned down.

Dated this 11th day of October 2017

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel