Ismael Mahomed vs. Sowetan


Mon, Aug 27, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

27 August 2018

Particulars

Date of article: 29 June 2018

Headline: Market Theatre CEO racist, say staff – Anti-apartheid bastion probed

Page: 3

Online: Yes

Author of article: Patience Bambalele

Respondent: Wendy Pretorius, managing editor                                            

Complaint                                            

Mahomed complains that the journalist:

·         turned fake news into fact;

·         did not verify her facts;

·         assassinated his character inter alia by implying that financial impropriety is at stake (while she could have established her facts with the Market Theatre Foundation);

·         acted maliciously in her reporting;

·         reflected her own racial prejudices; and

·         did not contribute to nation-building.

In particular, he refers to the “incorrect” statement that the Minister of Arts & Culture had met with the staff and members of the Council of the Market Theatre Foundation – thus, any quote that she directly attributes to the Minister, he complains, is untrue. He adds that the reporter did not verify this information with the Minister’s office.

He also cites a Facebook blog by cultural activist & playwright Mike van Graan, who wrote that he would need some convincing that he (Mahomed) would say “blacks do not know their jobs”.

The text

The article related several allegations of racist comments and behaviour by Mahomed against black employees.

The arguments

Pretorius says the article was written after numerous sources were approached and various documents were studied.

She says that the issues were put to (and included in the story):

·         Mohamed;

·         Market Theatre Council spokesperson J. Brooks Spector;

·         Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa; and

·         the Minister’s spokesperson, Asanda Magaqa.

Sowetan also published a letter by Spector on 9 July 2018.

Pretorius cites the ministry’s response to the reporter as follows: “The Department of Arts and Culture has met with the Market Theatre Foundation Council, Management and all staff members to engage them on the challenges of the Market Theatre Foundation. DAC then provided its feedback on the engagements to Management and Council of the foundation. Furthermore, the DAC also provided Management and Council with a list of its own concerns and impressed on Management and Council the urgent need to attend to the issues and what the DAC viewed to be areas of grave concern. ... DAC has since initiated a process to institute a Forensic Investigation to look into the Market Theatre Foundation, and the allegations levelled wholly or in part in your email.”

The editor also denies any malice regarding the publication of the story.

Analysis

Given the general terms in which most of the complaint is presented, it is not clear if Mohamed:

·         says the contents of the allegations against him were false and damaging to his dignity and reputation, or

·         queries the newspaper’s right to have reported those allegations.

If the former, the complaint would fall outside my mandate. This office has no investigative powers, and should in any case not interfere in any investigation taking place.

If Mohamed complains about the fact that Sowetan has published the allegations, I need to take into account that:

·         both Mthethwa and Spector had affirmed that they had been informed about the allegations;

·         the newspaper used six sources;

·         the reporter had asked comment from all parties concerned; and

·         the matter was in the public interest.

I therefore have little doubt that the newspaper was (more than) justified to publish the allegations as allegations, which is exactly what it has done – not a single allegation was stated as fact, neither in the story nor in the headline.

I am therefore satisfied that the newspaper has met the standards set by the Press Code, and have no reason to suspect that the reporting was malicious, or to believe that any of the complaints against the journalist can hold any water.

With regards to van Graan’s comments: I have taken note of this, but those cannot be of any relevance to the adjudication of this complaint.

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