Gayton McKenzie vs News24


Fri, Aug 26, 2022

25 August 2022

Finding: Complaint 9563

Date of publication: 11 July 2022

Headline: Gayton McKenzie admits his plans for Central Karoo not approved by council

Author: Marvin Charles

Particulars

This finding is based on a written complaint by Patriotic Alliance (PA) national spokesperson Mr Charles Cilliers on behalf of PA leader Mr Gayton McKenzie, a written response by Mr Marvin Charles and Dr George Claassen of News24, and a further written response by Mr Cilliers.

Complaint

The complainant submits that the article transgresses Clauses 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and 10.1 of the Press Code:

“1. The media shall:

“1.1 take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly;

“1.2 present news in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization;

“1.3 present only what may reasonably be true as fact; opinions, allegations, rumours or suppositions shall be presented clearly as such;

“1.4 obtain news legally, honestly and fairly, unless public interest dictates otherwise; …”

 “10.1 Headlines … shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report … in question …”

I have added Clause 1.8 in view of the complainant’s claim that he was not contacted for comment:

“1.8 seek, if practicable, the view of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication, except when they might be prevented from reporting, or evidence destroyed, or sources intimidated…”

1. Summary of article

1.1. The News24 article reported on a claim that Central Karoo District Mayor Gayton McKenzie had violated municipal processes by failing to get approval from the Council for his improvement plans in the district.

1.2. The article followed a complaint lodged by the South African Communist Party (SACP) with Western Cape Local Government MEC Anton Bredell.

1.2.1. According to the SACP complaint, McKenzie misrepresented the Central Karoo Municipality by raising funds in its name when he hosted a fundraising event in May in Johannesburg – “a function that was never sanctioned by the municipality”.

1.2.2. The article reported that the SACP believes that the violation of municipal processes warranted an investigation into McKenzie’s removal as mayor.

1.2.3. The SACP further claimed that McKenzie did not respect the fact that officials were not accountable to him, and accused him of disrespecting the rights of citizens as well.

1.3. Bredell's spokesperson, Wouter Kriel, confirmed receipt of the SACP’s letter, and also referred to reports on social media that McKenzie had closed a shop for non-compliance with a trading license and that he had disconnected the electricity of businesses which owe money to the municipality.

1.3.1. Kriel noted that, while municipal by-laws should indeed be implemented, it was the responsibility of municipal officials to do so – not “[p]olitically elected figures”.

1.3.2. He added that the Department of Local Government was monitoring the situation.

1.4. In response to the SACP’s complaint, McKenzie reportedly confirmed that he did not have Council permission to invite businesses to the Central Karoo District, and stated that he did not need permission to do his job and create employment.

1.4.1. According to the article, McKenzie said many other political leaders went overseas to source investors. The only difference, he said, was that he used his social media accounts to invite people to invest.

1.4.2. He reportedly added that he got permission from the owners of unused buildings to house businesses, and that most of these buildings had been empty for more than a decade.

1.4.3. McKenzie added that he did not mind being under the microscope. However, he said, he took exception to being scrutinised daily “by someone who has not been paying their rates and taxes to the municipality”.

2. Arguments

Gayton McKenzie

2.1. The complainant submits that the headline is deceptive.

2.1.1. He contends that he did not admit that his plans were not approved by the Council. In fact, he submits, his quote states very clearly that he does not need Council approval to invite businesses to invest in the Central Karoo.

2.1.2. He argues that politicians often invite businesspeople to invest “in countries, provinces, towns and cities” and that, far from being sinister, this is in fact something positive.

2.1.3. However, he contends, the headline makes it seem as though he is admitting to some form of wrongdoing whereas, in fact, he is showing pride in something positive.

2.2. The complainant further submits that News24 did not contact him for comment and, furthermore, that the comments from him in the article are presented “out of context”.

News 24

2.3. The respondent submits that the complainant’s account is distorted.

2.4. The journalist notes that he contacted the complainant’s office on 4 July to clarify whether or not he had received approval from the Council for his plans. However, the complainant failed to respond to a number of phone calls.

2.4.1. Instead, the complainant wrote a lengthy Facebook post on 7 July which addresses the complaint lodged against him with the MEC’s office.

2.4.2. According to the respondent, the complainant admits in the post that he had failed to get the necessary approval from the Council for his plans. News24 quoted from this post in its article (the full text of the post is provided by the respondent). 

2.4.3. The respondent further submits that the Facebook post was deleted after News24’s article was published.

2.5. The respondent argues that the complainant was aware of the complaint and that News24 was trying to contact him for comment because it had left a number of messages to this effect.

2.5.1. It further questions why the complainant used social media and PA supporters to respond instead of replying directly to News24’s request for comment.

2.5.2. It goes on to claim that the complainant’s spokesperson “has said he refuses to answer News24’s phone calls”.

Further arguments

2.6. The complainant argues that he fails to see how merely inviting businesses to invest in the Central Karoo requires Council approval.

2.6.1. He submits that it would be helpful if News24 can produce “the said legislation they believe is being infringed upon … as there may be some kind of misunderstanding among all of us here”.

2.6.2. He goes on to say that the article creates the impression that it is something sinister to call for investment when, in fact, it is something positive.

2.6.3. Lastly, the complainant asks whether News24 is “as critical” of President Cyril Ramaphosa when he calls for investment in South Africa.

3. Analysis

3.1. There is no evidence that the article was not truthful, accurate and fair (as required by Clause 1.1 of the Press Code).

3.1.1. The article was based on a complaint lodged by the SACP with the Western Cape Local Government MEC, which accused the complainant of violating various municipal processes.

3.1.2. Contrary to the insinuation in the complainant’s Further Arguments, this claim was not made by News24; this allegation was made in the SACP complaint lodged with the MEC.

3.1.3. The publication followed up the SACP complaint and contacted the MEC’s office to confirm receipt of the SACP’s letter. It also obtained further comment from the MEC’s spokesperson.

3.1.4. The publication contacted the office of the complainant as well to seek his response to the SACP complaint. However, the complainant failed to use the opportunity to respond to the SACP’s complaint and state his case.

3.1.5. Furthermore, quoting from the complainant’s Facebook post was a reasonable attempt on the part of News24 to present the complainant’s version of the story.

3.2. For the reasons above, the publication also cannot be deemed to be in violation of Clause 1.2 of the Press Code.

3.2.1. The article is clearly based on a complaint from the SACP.

3.2.2. News24 approached both the MEC’s office and the complainant’s office for comment in an attempt to present its article on the SACP complaint in a balanced manner.

3.2.3. For reasons not explained by the complainant, he did not use the opportunity offered by News24 to respond to the SACP complaint.

3.2.4. As a result of the complainant’s failure to respond to News24’s phone calls, the publication used extracts from the complainant’s response on Facebook to the SACP’s complaint in an effort to provide a context and balance.

3.2.5. This contradicts the complainant’s claim that the article was in breach of Clause 1.2.

3.3. There is no merit either in the complaint that the article was in breach of Clause 1.3 of the Press Code.

3.3.1. Nowhere in the article does News24 express any opinions of its own, nor does it level any allegations against the complainant. All opinions and allegations are clearly attributed to the SACP and to the MEC’s office.

3.4. There is also no substance in the complainant’s claim that the information in the article was not obtained legally, honestly and fairly (as prescribed by Clause 1.4 of the Press Code).

3.4.1. No evidence is provided by the complainant to corroborate this claim.

3.4.2. Nor can News24’s use of the Facebook post in its article be used to support such a claim. The publication resorted to quoting from the complainant’s post on Facebook – an online social networking service which is in the public domain – in an attempt to reflect the complainant’s views when he did not respond to its phone calls.

3.5. There is no merit in the complainant’s claim either that he was not contacted for comment (as required in terms of Clause 1.8 of the Press Code).

3.5.1. News24 contacted the complainant’s office on 4 July and asked him for his response. However, despite several follow-up phone calls by the publication, the complainant failed to respond.

3.5.2. Instead, he posted a message on Facebook on 7 July regarding the complaint lodged by the SACP with the MEC’s office.

3.5.3. News24 quoted from this post in its article. In this way, the respondent sought to comply with its obligation to reflect the views of the complainant in the article.

3.5.4. In the absence of any response from the complainant to News24’s repeated enquiries, the quotations from the Facebook post can be regarded as an adequate reflection of his views on the SACP complaint.

3.6. The complainant also claims that the headline is deceptive (and therefore in breach of Clause 10.1 of the Press Code).

3.6.1. The complainant argues that he did not admit that his plans were not approved by the Council. However, this assertion is contradicted by the following quote on his Facebook post: “The SACP [is] also complaining about the fact that I don’t have council permission to invite all these businesses. This is very true, I don’t need permission to do my job, my job is to create jobs.”

3.6.2. Even though the complainant does qualify his comment that his plans were not approved by the Council by stating that he does not need its permission, the point remains that he acknowledged that there was no explicit approval from the Council for his plans.

3.6.3. Determining whether or not such approval is required does not fall within the domain of the Press Council. The only relevant issue in this complaint to the Press Council is whether or not the News24 article is in breach of any of the clauses in the Press Code.

3.6.4. It is also not for the Press Council to make any pronouncement on the different levels of decision-making powers which reside in the different tiers of government and in the individuals at the helm of each of these tiers (local, provincial and national government).

3.6.5. In terms of Clause 10.1, the only pertinent issue regarding this aspect of the complaint is whether the headline in question is misleading or whether it gives a reasonable reflection of the contents of the article.

3.6.6. In this instance, there are adequate grounds to justify the focus of the headline on this particular aspect of the Facebook post. The headline therefore sufficiently meets the requirement of reasonableness prescribed by Clause 10.1.

4. Finding

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 1.1 is dismissed (for the reasons outlined under point 3.1 of my Analysis).

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 1.2 is dismissed (see the points under 3.2 of my Analysis).

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 1.3 is dismissed (for the reasons outlined under point 3.3 of my Analysis).

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 1.4 is dismissed (see the points under 3.4 of my Analysis).

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 1.8 is dismissed (see the reasons outlined under point 3.5 of my Analysis).

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 10.1 is dismissed (see the points under 3.6 of my Analysis).

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

Tyrone August

Deputy Press Ombudsman

25 August 2022