IFP vs Daily Sun


Fri, Feb 28, 2020

Finding Complaint 6606

Date of article: 8 October, 2019

Headline: “No Marriage for Shenge.”

Author: Willem Phungula

Page: 3

Online: Yes

Particulars

This finding is based on a written complaint from IFP member of Parliament Ms Liezl van der Merwe, writing on behalf of former IFP leader and member of Parliament, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and a written response from Mr Johan Vos, legal editor of the Daily Sun, as well as further written responses to questions posed by the Ombudsman.  I also consulted with two mother-tongue speakers on some of the meanings of the phrases used in isiZulu in the article as the words were of a sort that are not included in standard Zulu-English dictionaries. [1]

Complaint

Ms Van der Merwe, an IFP member of Parliament has complained on behalf of Chief Buthelezi about an article in the Daily Sun under the headline: “No marriage for Shenge”. [2] She complains that the article breaches the Press Code in terms of specific clauses and in terms of the spirit embodied in the Preamble to the Press Code “to avoid unnecessary harm” and exhibit “sensitivity to the cultural customs of their readers and the subjects of their reportage.

Specifically she complains that the article breaches the following sections of the Press Code:

  1. The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly

3.1 The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving the private lives of individuals

3.2 In the protection of privacy, dignity, and reputation, special weight must be afforded to South Africans cultural customs concerning the privacy and dignity of people who are bereaved…

3.3 The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation, which may be overridden only if it is in the public interest and if:

3.3.1. the facts reported are true or substantially true; or

3.3.2. the reportage amounts to protected comment based on facts that are adequately referred to and that are either true or reasonably true; or

3.3.3. the reportage amounts to a fair and accurate report of court proceedings, Parliamentary proceedings or the proceedings of any quasi-judicial tribunal or forum; or

3.3.4. it was reasonable for the information to be communicated because it was prepared in accordance with acceptable principles of journalistic conduct; or

3.3.5. the content was, or formed part of, an accurate and impartial account of a dispute to which the complainant was a party;

5.1 The media shall avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth or other status, and not refer to such status in a prejudicial or pejorative context – and shall refer to the above only where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported, and if it is in the public interest.

  1. Text

1.1 The article published under the headline, “NO MARRIAGE FOR SHENGE!,” featured deep-etched photographs of Princess Phumzile Buthelezi and her father, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

1.2 The article starts with a denial: “Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s daughter, Princess Phumzile has lashed out at IFP leaders for spreading lies about him remarrying.”

1.3 It then explains she was reacting to a Facebook photo “of her dad talking closely to a woman, identified as the granddaughter of ANC Youth League founding president Anton Lembede.”

1.4 Also prominent on the page is a screenshot of a Facebook post by one Nomasonto Queeneth posting to a group called Ladies House. The post features Chief Buthelezi seemingly talking to the young woman identified as Anton Lembede’s granddaughter.

1.5 The text on the Facebook post is in isiZulu. It says: “Indoda ayigugi zizowushaya kushenge maduze imali ayiluthezi olumanzi wena mnaks ubungaliyeka lelithuba.”

Roughly translated this means: “The man does not grow old…(something) will happen for Shenge soon…money is not a waste of water [is an issue]..don’t let this opportunity go.”

The article translates it as: “The man does not get old for marriage. Wedding bells are ringing for Buthelezi and he will tie the knot soon. Money is an issue, would you not have taken this opportunity.”

1.6 The article quotes “Phumzile” as saying it was not true that her father planned to marry. “Someone who posted this picture wanted to stain his image. There are people in the party who wish him dead..”

She said he had no plans to remarry after losing his wife last year.

1.7 She is quoted as saying “this lady” [in the picture] was introduced to her during a mini-Shaka’s Day celebration in Hlabisa a few weeks previously. “The member asked me to introduce her to Inkosi Buthelezi. I took her to my father and he told her the history of her grandfather while they were in the youth league together.”

1.8 The article then recounts comments on the post from the group that calls itself “Ladies House.” It says: “Some congratulated Buthelezi, while others were concerned whether he could still poke.”

1.9 It cites three comments on the Facebook post:

  • From Pinky Mkhize who says this was a “good thing as he would need someone to take care of him when he is sick.”
  • From Zama Hloni, which is not translated, but reads: “Wee Jesu uzompipiliza ngan webantu.”
  • And from Sinaye Hadebe who said “the woman had money on her mind.”

1.10 The article records it could not get hold of the Lembede family. “But IFP spokesman Mkhuleko Hlengwa accused Daily Sun of being insensitive to Buthelezi, who is still mourning his wife’s death.”

  1. Arguments

Ms Van der Merwe for Chief Buthelezi

2.1 Ms Van der Merwe argues there is “no truth to the claim made in this Facebook post. It was simply fake news.”

2.2 She says the matter is “particularly sensitive as Prince Buthelezi lost his wife of almost 66 years on 25 March 2019. It is culturally inappropriate to speculate on the private life of one so recently bereaved.”

2.3 Facebook is not a news platform, “and users are at liberty to post radical

misinformation. Sensationalist posts attract comments from other Facebook users

which are often crude, insulting or untrue…

But the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct prevents newspapers from following suit.”

2.4 Mr Phungula, the reporter, has failed to conform with the injunction in the Preamble of the Press Code not to cause “unnecessary harm,” and to “exhibit sensitivity”.

2.5 She acknowledges that “Prince Buthelezi is a public figure and it may be argued that his private life is a matter of public interest. Accordingly, it may be deemed to be in the public interest to know whether or not Prince Buthelezi intends to remarry. But Mr Phungula's article ventures well beyond acceptable commentary on Prince Buthelezi's private life, embarking on a wholly inappropriate discussion of his age and sexual ability.

“Moreover, this is phrased in a way that conveys disrespect, ridicule and even contempt.”

2.6 She cites the paragraph quoted above – “others were concerned whether he could still poke" – to illustrate this, pointing out this was not a direct quote, but Mr Phungula's own phrasing.

Notwithstanding the fact that Chief Buthelezi is a public figure, he is still protected by the human right to dignity enshrined in the Constitution. The newspaper has not respected this.

2.7 He furthers the “defamation” of the young woman in the photograph by “giving coverage to speculation on Facebook around her pecuniary motives for marrying Prince Buthelezi, when the whole idea of marriage is fictional.”

In her case, Mr Phungula reports that he sought the views of the Lembede family but failed to reach them. “Presumably he did not know how to reach A [the woman] herself.”

“However, he made no attempt to contact Prince Buthelezi, as the subject of this article, despite Prince Buthelezi’s contact details being widely available and despite the very damaging nature of this discussion on his most private life.”

He also took “little care” to “correctly capture Princess Phumzile Buthelezi’s comments.”

He “claims” that “Princess Phumzile Buthelezi told the Daily Sun that Prince Buthelezi ‘had no plans to remarry after he lost his wife last year.’ Prince

Buthelezi's wife passed away little more than six months ago. Clearly Princess

Phumzile would not have said that her mother died last year. Mr Phungula is carelessly attributing to her his own words.”

2.8 Ms Van der Merwe asks for an apology from the Daily Sun for using “fake news” on Facebook as a source of information, as well as an apology from the reporter “for abusing Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s constitutional right to dignity.”

Daily Sun

2.9 Mr Johan Vos, deputy editor of the Sunday Sun and legal editor of the Daily Sun and Sunday Sun, argued on behalf of the newspaper.

2.10 He said the journalist had spoken to Princess Phumzile Buthelezi for comment about the picture that was posted on Facebook.[3]

The angle of the story was in fact her response to it, particularly her anger. In support of this, he cites the intro: “Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s daughter, Princess Pumzile, has lashed out at IFP leaders for spreading lies about him remarrying.”

2.11 He says the article was not “pejorative” towards Inkosi Buthelezi. “It refutes what was published on Facebook and we are setting the record straight through Phumzile’s words.” He points out the words were strong: “lashed out” and “spreading lies”.

Phumzile gives context in this article which is not reflected in the Facebook post”. She says, for instance, that the person who posted the picture “wanted to stain his image” and explains more about the picture: “This lady was introduced to me by a party member during a mini-Shaka’s Day celebration…”, and how the party member asked her to introduce her to her father “and he told her the history of her grandfather while they were in the youth league together.”

2.12 The sentence “some congratulated Buthelezi, while others were concerned whether he could still poke” was a reflection of what was posted on Facebook. He stresses the newspaper “made it clear” in the intro that his daughter had “lashed out at IFP leaders for spreading lies about him remarrying”

2.13 He says the paper did not “copy a ‘random story from Facebook’ and publish it as is’” as the complainant argues.

“We only used the picture that was posted on Facebook and we sought comment from Princess Phumzile.”

2.14 The article was not “pejorative towards Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi [or] his daughter [and] is setting the record straight.”

Further arguments

2.15 In response, Ms Van der Merwe said: “We believe that if a journalist sees a story on Facebook and wants to run with it, they have a responsibility to verify its accuracy first. If in so doing it is found that the story is not true, it is unethical to run with the story anyway. It can only cause harm.

“We take exception to the claim that the article did not seek to harm Prince Buthelezi. The Daily Sun knowingly carried a fake story while Prince Buthelezi was still mourning the passing his wife. We maintain that their actions were in breach of the Press Code.”

2.16 I asked Mr Vos if, notwithstanding the fact that the paper sought out and carried a denial of this story, it was not promoting “fake news” by using the Facebook post as its source for a story – even though it ended up as a denial. He replied: “Yes, the Facebook post comes across as fake news but isn’t it the media’s role to expose fake news, as we have done in this matter?”

 

  1. Analysis

3.1 The original “story” – if it can be called that – was posted on a Facebook group called “Ladies House” by one, Nomasonto Queeneth.

The Facebook group, when I checked, has about half a million members and appears to comprise mainly isiZulu-speaking women.

Although it is a closed group, its postings can be considered to be in the public domain and thus it is not surprising that a “news” post, such as the one about Chief Buthelezi, would find its way to a reporter.

3.2 Mr Vos of the newspaper argues that the angle of the story – reflected in the headline and the intro – “wasn’t about Chief Buthelezi getting married again… we refuted the Facebook comments (due to the picture) with the comments from his daughter.”

In other words, he argued, the paper had actually refuted the “fake news” post in its reportage. It wasn’t as though the newspaper had simply taken a post from Facebook and replicated it without checking.

3.3 It could be argued that to replicate a “fake news” story, even with a denial, gives it a status it does not deserve. However, in this instance, the Facebook post had probably circulated to several thousand people given the size of the “Ladies House” group – who may not have been offered any alternative to this news.

3.4 The IFP’s Ms Van der Merwe maintains that the newspaper knew the information was false – having been so informed by Princess Phumzile Buthelezi. “It was clear therefore that the aim was not to report news truthfully, accurately or fairly but simply to make fun of/denigrate/harm the persona of Prince Buthelezi.”

3.5 In response to further queries I made, she said the first time she (or Chief Buthelezi) became aware of the Facebook post was from the newspaper. But this does not mean its reach may not have been significant and widespread.

3.6 She also says the newspaper did not attempt to contact Chief Buthelezi nor herself, as his media liaison officer.

3.7 However, the newspaper did speak to his daughter, as well as to the IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa.

3.8 The challenge with “news” posted on social media in this age is it is often inaccurate or sometimes downright wrong. This was a case in point. However, the other challenge is that such false news can spread widely.

Thus the Daily Sun does have a point that it was correcting false information by checking its veracity and prominently reporting the fake news for what it was.

3.9 That said, it was distasteful that it reflected some of the comments on the post without due regard for Chief Buthelezi’s dignity or privacy.

Once it had established the news was untrue, there seemed little reason to record some of the comments, particularly about a 91-year-old man whose wife had passed away less than a year ago.

The comment – reproduced as a paraphrase without even quotation marks – “..others were concerned whether he could still poke”, was a particularly egregious and unjustified transgression of both his privacy and dignity..

3.10 The Press Code enjoins the media to “exercise care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals. The right to privacy may be overridden by the public interest.”

I cannot find a defence of public interest here, particularly as the newspaper itself had established that any rumours of a “marriage” were simply untrue.

3.11 The comments were also denigratory of him on the basis of his age.

3.12 Thus clause 3.3.1 of the Press Code  – that allows the media to override “dignity or reputation of an individual only if it is in the public interest” and only “if the facts reported are substantially true” – cannot be said to apply in this case. The newspaper itself reported the rumours of a marriage were untrue and has used this in its defence.

It was not necessary to reproduce random and vulgar comments from the post in relation to a “marriage” which was a falsehood.

Finding

The Daily Sun has transgressed clauses 3.1 and 3.3 of the Press Code, as well as clause 5.1.

This is a Tier 2 offence

The newspaper should apologise to Chief Buthelezi for infringing on his privacy and dignity with regard to remarks it carried referring to his age and sexual ability, as well making denigratory references to his age, by reproducing the comments on Facebook.

The apology should be published on the same page as the original print story in the newspaper, with a link to its online story, and be approved by the Ombudsman.

The Press Council logo and a link to this finding should also be published.

The rest of the complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven (7) 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.

 

Pippa Green

Press Ombudsman

February 28, 2020



[1] I consulted Dent, GR and Nyembezi, CLS: Scholar’s Zulu Dictionary; Shuter&Shooter, 4th edition, 2009

[2] The online edition headlined the article: “NO MARRIAGE FOR BUTHELEZI!”

[3] After I had finished writing this ruling, on 23/2, I received an email from Ms Van der Merwe saying that Princess Buthelezi denied speaking to the reporter. This was puzzling and concerning. Princess Buthelezi had never complained before and this was the first time this point had been raised. However, I held back the ruling because Ms Van der Merwe said the princess would provide an affidavit. After five days, I had not received this. However, the reporter provided me with his notes and an affidavit, sworn at the Umlazi police station on 28/2 that he had spoken to her on the 6th or 7th October, 2019. This is not part of the finding, nor does it influence it, but it is only fair to note it.