Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation vs. Saturday Dispatch


Thu, Aug 17, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

17 August 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Brig Hangwani Mulaudzi, Section Head: Corporate Communication Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), on behalf of the DPCI, and those of Sibusiso Ngalwa, editor-in-chief of the Daily Dispatch.

Mulaudzi is complaining about a story in the Saturday Dispatch of 15 July 2017. The headline on the front page read, Feathers fly – Sexual harassment Hawks chief accused – two senior cops file complaints against their boss, and was accompanied by pictures of the concerned parties. The article itself was run on page 5 under the headline, Hawks boss in sex scandal.

Complaint                                            

The DPCI complains that the story was unfair, untruthful, not in the public interest and defamatory, and that Saturday Dispatch published the names and pictures of the alleged victims of sexual harassment without their consent.

In this process, Mulaudzi argues, the newspaper has:

·         shown no regard for the women’s personal safety, dignity, integrity, pain, trauma, humiliation and right to privacy; and also

·         impugned the integrity of the DPCI – casting doubt on it as a responsible organisation and fuelling unwarranted lack of public confidence in the institution.

The text

The article said that Eastern Cape Hawks provincial head Major-General Nyameko Nogwanya (48) was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal after two senior staff members accused him of sexually harassing them.

The national Hawks office reportedly launched an investigation against “the most senior official in the province”.

The story mentioned the complainants’ names – the investigative unit commander at the Mthatha office, Colonel Nokuzola Ngxola (49), and the provincial spokeswoman, Captain Anelisa Feni (36).

Nogwanya reportedly dismissed the allegations, saying they were part of a broader smear campaign against him. He was also quoted as claiming that it was Feni who had shown interest in him and even visited his hotel room three times after hours in March last year. “She would come with press statements for me to clear at night and show too much interest and comfortability around me to an extent of eating my food and drinking my drinks,” he reportedly said.

Both Ngxola and Feni declined to comment and referred questions to Mulaudzi (who replied that matters between employer and employees were private).

The arguments

Ngalwa claims substantial public interest in this story, particularly against the background of violence against women and children, the prominence of the people involved and the nature of the Hawks’ work.

He adds that the story adequately incorporated responses from all concerned parties and states that there was no intention of causing the women any harm.

The editor-in-chief also notices that the two alleged victims did not complain, and argues that Mulaudzi seems to be concerned about the image of the Hawks rather than justice for the two officials.

Mulaudzi, however, argues that the two women are in agreement with his complaint and, in fact, are considering litigation against the newspaper in this regard.

Analysis

The overwhelming public interest in this matter should not be in dispute. Ngalwa’s argument in this respect is sound, and I do not need to belabour the point.

The central question is whether the newspaper should have identified the people involved – especially the alleged victims.

Several arguments exist for either identifying or not identifying people who have been sexually abused – allegedly or in fact.

Against the background of this ongoing debate, I need to test the newspaper’s identification of the women (both by naming them and by publishing their pictures) against the requirements of the Press Code.

Section 3.4 of the Code is relevant in this regard. It reads, “Rape survivors and survivors of sexual violence shall not be identified without the consent of the victim…”

Of immediate importance is the fact that the story referred nine times to “harassment”, while there is not a single reference to rape or sexual assault in the article.

While I am not denying the seriousness of accusations of sexual harassment in any way, I also need to point out that harassment leading to violence (read: sexual assault and rape) is even more serious – which is why the Code does not mention harassment, but indeed confines itself to “rape survivors and survivors of sexual violence”.

Given the above I believe that, while it would have been better if Saturday Dispatch did obtain consent for identification from the complainants, its omission to do so does not amount to a breach of the Press Code.

If a matter is of overwhelming public interest, such as this one, I agree with Ngalwa’s statement: “The fact that such a report may cause embarrassment to the DPCI should not in any way prevent any responsible media from fully reporting such allegations. The Daily Dispatch contends that not only is it in within its rights to publish such a report, it has a duty to do so fully and without fear or favour.”

Indeed.

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