Colleen Khumalo vs. Daily Maverick


Thu, Oct 18, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

18 October 2018

Particulars

Date of article: 13 September 2018

Headline: LDonor funding graft: R100,000 bail for SA Branch Chief at US Centre for Disease Control; arrested on R25m corruption and fraud charges

Author of article: Marianne Thamm

Respondent: Thamm

Complaint                                            

Ms Colleen Khumalo complains that the journalist did not give her 48 hours to respond to her questions as promised.

In later correspondence, she mentions “incorrect information” having been published. However, she has not included this as part of her complaint, and she has also not explained exactly what “incorrect information” she was mentioning. As such, I cannot entertain this specific matter.

The text

The article said that Zimbabwe-born US resident, Dr Alfred Bere, was granted R100 000 bail after he had been arrested on charges of fraud and corruption with regard to the misappropriation of R25-million of donor funding.

Thamm also reported that Khumalo, CEO of the SACTWU WHP, had resigned on 28 August, three days after Bere’s arrest. “She was appointed CEO in December 2014. SACTWU General Secretary, Andre Kriel, confirmed to Daily Maverick that the union had requested Khumalo to resign or face disciplinary action. The union, said Kriel, was of the view that ‘developments”’in the WHP had ‘brought the organisation into disrepute’,” she wrote.

The arguments

Khumalo says she received a WhatsApp message from Thamm on Tuesday, September 11, at 10:42, requesting her to respond to questions. She states: “the message advised me that I would have 48 hours to respond. However, the article was published prior to the 48 hour time period.”

She asks this office to deal “accordingly” with Thamm’s conduct.

Thamm replies that she did send Khumalo a WhatsAPP message on that day and at that time, alerting her to the fact that she was investigating a story with regard to the SACTWU worker health programme and her alleged involvement in fraud and corruption.

She says it appears that Khumalo read her message on September 11, but she did not respond or acknowledge receipt of the questions.

“When my WhatsApp was met with silence I proceeded with the story as it related to a court appearance in relation to the same matter and which we reported on… Ms Khumalo responded to my questions on 13/8/2018 as evidenced in my screenshot of her reply,” she says.

Analysis

The following facts are noteworthy:

  • Thamm did not categorically state that she was giving Khumalo 48 hours to respond – she says that Daily Maverick “usually allow” that time period for responses. This implies that there could be circumstances which may dictate earlier publication;
  • Khumalo does not deny that she has:
    • read the journalist’s message on September 11;
    • not even acknowledge receipt of the questions;
  • The journalist did report in her article that she had asked Khumalo certain questions, as required by the Press Code; and
  • The reporter published her story two days later, even though the full 48 hours have not expired.

As such, I have no reason to conclude that Thamm has behaved unethically in this regard.

I need to remind the Daily Maverick, though, that it is obligated to publish Khumalo’s response (if it has not done so already.)

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