Esethu Hasane vs News24


Wed, May 10, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

10 May 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Esethu Hasane, media liaison manager, on behalf of the Minister of Police, Mr Fikile Mbalula, and those of Ahmed Ariff of Media24.

Mbalula is complaining about text in EyeWitness of 25 April 2017, headlined ‘Download Tbo Touch app to report crime’ – Mbalula.

Complaint                                            

Mbalula complains that the newspaper incorrectly interpreted his mentioning of examples of apps (which the public could download to report crime) as an instruction to use those particular apps.

The text

The article was about a media conference by Mbalula as the then newly appointed Minister of Police, where he outlined his vision for the first 100 days of his tenure.

The online report quoted Mbalula as saying, “There are many apps. You know there is an app that we download everyday – it’s called Touch HD. It’s a radio station. Or [download] CliffCentral. I want you to download that app on your cellphones to fight criminality. So when you enter a zone … it must tell you how many police stations you got, and what the dangers you are facing in the area that you are at (sic). Use your cellphone to report criminality. That’s what I am about.”

Media24 published another story on the same day, headlined Mbalula urges public to download Tbo Touch app to fight crime. The first sentences of this article read that Mbalula “[h]as urged the pubic to download an app by well-known radio personality Tbo Touch to help with fighting crime. News24 reported on Monday that it was alleged in court papers that Wandile Bozwana, a tender mogul and ANC benefactor from North West, who was shot dead in Pretoria in October 2015, had earlier instructed a Bloemfontein law firm to pay Thabo “Tbo Touch” Molefe an amount of R1m. The money was earmarked for Mbalula.”

The arguments

Hasane said that, in responding to questions, Mbalula highlighted the need for text savvy Police stations. As examples he mentioned the Tbo Touch and CliffCentral apps, which could be downloaded to enable the public to report crime – he never said that people should download the Tbo Touch or the CliffCentral app.

He argues that News24 wrongly interpreted this as an instruction to download the Tbo Touch app, adding that the minister qualified his statement by saying he would launch an app with corporate South Africa (not Tbo Touch).

He says the headline on Media24’s website used inverted commas, again attributing words to Mbalula which he never said, and adds that the story also wrongly ascribed the words “or [download] CliffCentral” to Mbalula.

Hasane argues it would have been ludicrous to instruct people to download those apps as they had no capabilities to report crime or to check crime-ridden zones. Mbalula was talking about a future app, not an existing app, he submits.

In conclusion, Hasane says News24 intentionally misinterpreted Mbalula to give context to the story about him allegedly receiving funds from the late Bozwana.

Ariff says the story was based on court papers. He adds that Media24 carried Mbalula’s quote twice (in a live update, as well as in a separate story).

He notes that the only difference between the two quotes is the use of the word “that”, instead of “the” (referring to the words, “I want you to download that app on your cellphones”). He argues that nothing much turns on this, as the meaning was clear.

He adds that the story also quoted Mbalula’s tweet in which he stated that it was not what he meant to say.

“We believe any reference by Minister Mbalula to Tbo Touch is relevant, newsworthy and in the public interest, given that court papers allege that the minister benefitted financially from Tbo Touch,” he concludes.

Analysis

The use of the word “that” (app) instead of “the” does not make a material difference, given the context (read: the mentioning of Tbo Touch). If the Minister wanted to make it clear that he used Tbo Touch only as an example, he should at least have stated that people should download “an” app, and not “the” app. If there was any misunderstanding in this regard, it cannot be laid at News24’s door.

This goes for the text as well as for the headline.

The reference to CliffCentral did not substantially subtract from or add to the meaning of the text.

Hasane’s argument that it would have been ludicrous to instruct people to download those apps as they had no capabilities to report crime or to check crime-ridden zones is somewhat bizarre – if it was ludicrous to “instruct” people to download those apps for the reasons he gave, it would – for the same reason – be equally “ludicrous” for Mbalula to have used them as examples in the first place.

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