Dr Eugenia Kula-Ameyaw vs Sunday Times


Fri, Jan 17, 2020

17 January, 2020

Via email

Dear Dr Kula-Ameyaw

My colleague, the Public Advocate Joe Latakgomo, has informed me that you have appealed to me his decision to dismiss two of your complaints against the Sunday Times. These are:

  1. Complaint 6635: “Sisulu steps in over reality board ‘staff revolt’ claim”. (3/11/19)
  2. Complaint 7684: “Estate agency board in new scandal” (15/12/19)

Complaint 6635

On the first complaint, “Estate agency board in new scandal”, the report details a trip you took to Ghana with an official, at a total cost of R90 000. You accuse the reporter, Mr Mpumzi Zuzile, of misreprepresenting the facts.

You argue that to report that you travelled to Ghana “despite a moratorium” was incorrect. You also argue that the trip, which cost R90 000, was for two people not for yourself alone. “He ignores the fact that I did not fly business class, I did not take any S&T, both of which I’m entitled to.”

You say the moratorium on international travel was discussed by the Board only in April 2019 and your trip was in March 2018. However, the Sunday Times has made available to the Public Advocate a slide from a presentation to an executive committee meeting from Nexia/SAB&T referring to a proposed moratorium on international travel in January 2018. Moreover, both the chairman of the board, Mr Nkosinathi Biko, and the chair of the social and ethics committee, Mr Gauta Mogomane, confirmed to the newspaper that the board had adopted a turnaround strategy, of which the moratorium was part, in either January or February 2018. Your trip occurred shortly after this decision.

You also complain that one source or report made mention of the fact that you may have made the trip to Ghana “to visit your husband”. But there is no mention of this in the Sunday Times report. In fact it says you visited Ghana “to attend a transformation workshop”.

You also complain about the headline, which has as a sub-head, “High-flying member defiant over trip despite moratorium”. As Ms Susan Smuts, legal editor of the Sunday Times has explained, reporters do not write the headlines, so there is no basis for the belief that Mr Zuzile “maliciously tagged” you as a “high-flying member.”

She says the “high-flying” was a pun on both your career and the fact that you flew to Ghana at the EAAB’s expense.

There is no suggestion of corruption on your part.

The statement that the board is investigating a member “accused of misrepresenting the purpose of her R90 000 trip” comes from testimony at the disciplinary hearing of former CEO Nikita Sigaba, who authorised the trip and who subsequently resigned.

As for the price-tag, the report also makes clear that the trip was for two people – yourself and an official who is described as “acting on instruction”. The total cost was R90 000.

The caption to the picture, which is taken from Facebook, effectively a public forum, makes it clear that your trip to China (where the picture was taken) was “paid for from her own pocket.”

Ms Smuts argues that it is “entirely irrelevant” that you elected not to travel business class or claim S&T. The thrust of the story was that the trip was taken at around the time the board was discussing the moratorium. This is a reasonable assessment.

The rest of the article concerned historic issues of alleged mismanagement and lack of governance in the board and among senior managers, as well as internal complaints from staff. Mr Nkosinathi Biko, the chair of the board, confirmed to the newspaper this was the case.

In short, there was no accusation of wrongdoing in this report but was rather an examination of issues of governance within the board and among senior managers.  You were given a right of reply and all issues of contention were attributed to named sources.

The EAAB manages a substantial fund on behalf of the industry and matters of its governance are of public interest.

If you feel, as you argue, that the report is biased in that it does not mention alleged wrongdoing by other senior managers or board members (or “new complaints”) as you put it, or disputes around appointments, this should be taken up with the Sunday Times.

The Press Ombudsman has to adjudicate on specific articles and in this case, there is no evidence of misreporting or falsehood.

I see no breach of the Press Code in this report. For these reasons, I don’t believe the complaint stands to be adjudicated.

I concur with the Public Advocate that it should be dismissed.

 

Complaint 7684

In the second article, there is no mention of you at all. You complain on the grounds that the reporter “misrepresented the facts” by reporting that Minister Sisulu was to meet with “the CEO and the Board”.

Writing as a member of the Estate  Agency Affairs Board (EAAB), you say the invitation to you as a Board member stipulated that the meeting was between the Minister and Board members. You also complain that although the report stated that the CEO, Ms Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi, was “cleared by the board on a host of accusations staff brought against her..”, the report did not mention that some board members did not sign off on the preliminary investigation by the Ethics Committee. You say “It appears that Mpuzi [by which I assume you mean the reporter, Mpumzi Zuzile) is the judge of the case and desperately wants to clear the CEO at all cost without any due process.”

There is no evidence of this in Mr Zuzile’s report. He reports on the planned meeting between the Board and the minister and most of the rest of the article comprises of an interview with Ms Mohlala-Mulaudzi about why she thinks there is a backlash against her and how she believes she has improved the audit outcomes. It is a report, not an endorsement, of what she told him.

It goes on to report on a complaint brought against her for receiving a salary from the SABC Board, of which she is deputy chair, in spite of a directive from National Treasury that “employees of national, provincial and local government, or institutions, are not entitled to additional remuneration.”

It then reports on how she had instructed the SABC to stop her board fees until she received the necessary clearance from Treasury.

In my view, the Public Advocate is correct in dismissing the complaint. You are not mentioned at all and the reporter attributes his statements.

On most Boards, the CEO is a member of the Board, although I understand in the case of the EAAB this is not the case. However, the Sunday Times specifically checked with the Minister’s office whether the CEO would be present and this was confirmed. So there is nothing incorrect in the article.

While it is clear there may be conflict at the EAAB, and even some hostility between the new CEO and some board members and staff, the reporter was behaving in a professional manner reporting the planned meeting and interviewing the new CEO.

He attributes the majority of the report to official sources.

There is no breach of the Press Code I can find here.

I concur with the Public Advocate in dismissing it.

Thank you and kind regards

Pippa Green

Press Ombudsman