Jacqueline Setai vs. Sunday Times


Wed, Jun 20, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

20 June 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Complainant

 

 

Jacqueline Setai, CEO of SiyayaTV

 

 

Date of article

 

 

13 May 2018

 

Headline

 

 

‘It’s whack, it’s boring, why go back there?’ – Parents of two youths killed by Molemo Maaronhanye say ‘reconciliation rapper’ has never apologised to them

 

 

Page

 

 

4

 

Online

 

 

Yes

 

Author of article

 

 

Leonie Wagner

 

Respondent

Susan Smuts, internal ombud

Complaint                                            

The gist of the complaint is that Sunday Times has tailored the article to give a particular picture of rapper Molemo Maarohanye (aka Jub Jub) as a cold and heartless person.

In this process, Setai complains, the story has:

·         deliberately misquoted him;

·         omitted his admission that what he had done was terrible;

·         inaccurately stated that he did not seek forgiveness from the bereaved families; and

·         incorrectly, and damaging to his dignity, stated that he was a “killer”.

Setai asks for an apology, and for a retraction of the use of the word “killer”.

The text

The story said that Jub Jub was to kick off his new reality show about forgiveness – while “the convicted killer has yet to seek for forgiveness from the families of two of the teenagers he killed when he drove his car into them in 2010”.

The hip-hop artist was out on parole following four years in prison after he had been convicted of culpable homicide for crashing a vehicle into a group of schoolchildren while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

In the series Uthando Noxolo, Jub Jub helps people to say sorry and patch up their relationships with those they have wronged.

Wagner reported the rapper had told her during an interview that he had asked the families of the teens he killed and injured to forgive him. However, he reportedly was “reluctant to talk about his own efforts at reconciliation” with the reporter.

“Everybody ’s got a dark past and I don’t think people want to be reminded of it. It’s whack, it’s boring, it’s done, why go back there?” he was quoted as saying.

However, Wagner wrote the fathers of two of the boys had denied that Maarohanye had ever contacted them, or asked them for forgiveness.

The Department of Correctional Services reportedly said it could not divulge which of Jub Jub’s victims had participated in the victim offender dialogues – some did, while others had refused to do so.

The conversation

Before proceeding any further, I first relay a transcription of the conversation between the reporter and Jub Jub, as received from Setai – as it impacts on at least some of the aspects of the complaint (unedited):

REPORTER: Did you contact the families before you decided to…

JUB JUB: I am not talking about that. That is not what this is about.

REPORTER: Okay. Do you feel like it is in the elephant in the room?

JUB JUB: What elephant in the room?

REPORTER: This, that I am asking. Your past what you have been through that experience.

JUB JUB: I do not know what you are talking about. What are you talking about?

REPORTER: I am asking you about the elephant in the room?

JUB JUB: What is it? What is the elephant in the room?

REPORTER: It means this thing that we have been tip-toeing around.

JUB JUB: What about it?

REPORTER: This thing that you have just said you are not talking about it.

JUB JUB: When you make a conscious decision. Let me ask you something, when you, when you wake up and you have got Rice Krispies or Kelloggs before you go to work you can’t eat both of them, you have to choose right, it’s a choice right. I made a choice, I am not looking in the past, I am looking forward. So everything to do with the past, I am not going there.

REPORTER: Okay.

JUB JUB: I do not want to talk about it, if you talk about it, you are never going to get an interview from me again and I respect your job and there is more important things to focus on in life, than the past. Everybody has got a dark past and I do not think that people want to be reminded about it. Its whack, its boring, its done, why go back there? And if someone has to come to me and say, “It is important,” for who? Who is it important for because the only people that matter was myself and the families.

REPORTER: I think it adds to the show and it adds to what makes you…

JUB JUB: Definitely.

REPORTER: And making you relatable.

JUB JUB: Definitely.

REPORTER: And it gives, I almost want to use the word gravitas, that is what it gives you, uhm because, we learn from our past. Yes, you said that we have all messed up. We have uhm… Yours was publicly because of the fame, we all saw it. Uhm, and I think that it can’t be ignored. Yes, we do not look to it all the time, but to say that it did not happen is also not…

JUB JUB: According to who? You see the smartest person will always want to go back into my dark closet like they don’t have a dark a closet. You know what a wise person will do, a wise person will learn from me in a positive way. You understand and take that. A wiser person will look at the aftermath and say, damn, this person went through this and this and this but look at what God is doing. Look at God at work – do you understand? And I think the most powerful thing is the fact that I do not want anybody coming from an ordeal or coming from jail and give up, you know? That is one thing for me, even about the show, there is so many people that are quick to give up. I never thought that I would see the sun ever. I thought I would be locked up in those concretes for good. Do you understand what I am saying? Because what I did was terrible, but I know that I was given a second chance to go and change it – but how do I change it when I keep referring back to it?

Analysis

Misquoted

Setai complains that Maarohanye was (deliberately) misquoted. She says he did use the words, “Its whack, it’s boring, why go back there?”, but states that this was in response to the remark, “[The question is about] your past, what you went through, your experiences”. She says, “In answering this question, Mr Maarohanye’s answer is in relation to why he doesn't like answering questions like the one posed to him.”

Smuts denies that the quote was out of context. She says the question posed by Wagner was: “Did you contact the families before you decided…” The conversation, she submits, went around a few circles as Maarohanye attempted to evade the question. She argues, “He finally responded with the words to which an objection is now raised. Unfortunately, the fact remains that he used those words in response to the question asked. We stand by our reporting. In our view the objection should be directed at Mr Maarohanye for using the words, not at us for publishing them.”

Setai reiterates her complaint and asks for a hearing to address this issue.

My considerations

I have noted Setai’s request for a hearing, and have given it due consideration. However, I do believe that the documentation at my disposal is sufficient to come to a decision based on papers. (This goes for the rest of the complaint as well.)

The issue is if Jub Jub’s statement (“It’s whack, it’s boring, it’s done, why go back there?”) was quoted out of context. (Note that he did say those words, and that the journalist has reported them accurately. An accurate quote, however, can be out of context – hence this part of the complaint.)

Firstly, Jub Jub either did not understand Wagner’s question about the “elephant in the room” (referring to the incident which had led to his jail sentence), or he has deliberately evaded the question. Whichever way, he initially did not answer the question directly.

When he eventually did come to the point, he said that:

·         he did not want to talk about the incident;

·         if Wagner continued to ask him about it, she would never again get an interview with him;

·         there were more important things to focus on in life than the past;

·         everyone has got a dark past, and people do not want to be reminded of that; and

·         the journalist’s question was not important as the only people who mattered in this case was himself and the families.

The statement in question featured squarely within the specific context of Maarohanye having declined to speak about the incident – which is exactly what his quoted words were about. In other words: The gist of the statement in question, and the immediate context within which he said it, were exactly the same. To put it differently: If any other meaning was to be attached to the quoted words, that would have been out of context.

Material omission

Setai complains that the journalist did not quote or refer to Maarohanye admission that what he did “was terrible” – an allegation that Smuts does not reply to.

My considerations

It is true that Jub Jub indeed used those words, and that Wagner did not quote him as such. The question is if this was a material omission, or a reasonable one.

It is common cause that a journalist is not duty-bound to quote each and every word a subject utters (that would in many cases be impossible, due to space constraints). Instead, a reporter’s task is to capture the gist of what was said.

In this case, Wagner did quote Maarohanye as saying that he had asked for forgiveness – which has implied that he has done something wrong. One does not ask for forgiveness for nothing. The article also quoted him as referring to his “dark past”.

Given these instances, I do not believe that the omission of the statement that what he had done “was terrible” amounted to a material omission, and I am satisfied that Wagner did reflect the essence of what Maarohanye had said.

Not seeking forgiveness

The sentence in dispute read: “But the convicted killer has yet to seek forgiveness from the families of two of teenagers he killed when he drove his car into them in 2010.”

Setai says this is incorrect. She says the very same article ended by in fact admitting that Maarohanye had participated in victim-offender dialogues. (That sentence stated, “The Dept of Corrections Services said it could not divulge which of Jub Jub’s victims had participated in the victim offender dialogues.”)

She says all the victims had been consulted; some welcomed the opportunity to participate, while others declined to meet him. She adds, “The families were aware of the intention of the victim perpetrator dialogue – as an opportunity for the perpetrator to request for forgiveness among other issues of conversation.”

Smuts says it is a fact that the fathers of two of the children killed told the newspaper that Jub Jub had not asked them for forgiveness.

She argues that the victim-offender dialogues did not mean that Maarohanye in fact sought their forgiveness. “The victim offender dialogues exist as opportunities for victims to meet with offenders in order to discuss the impact of the crime or to have questions answered. It is not intended as a process to have offenders rehabilitated at the expense of the victims they have already severely damaged. The fact that the families understood the purpose of the dialogues and declined a request to meet falls far short of an actual approach from Mr Maarohanye for forgiveness,” she argues.

The internal ombud submits that, even on the version put forward in the complaint, Jub Jub has not made a sincere attempt to ask forgiveness from all the families, and appears not to have made any effort beyond an offer to participate in the victim-offender dialogue. “If he has made any other attempts to approach the families, through intermediaries, for example, or through writing a letter, he has not shared that with us, despite having the opportunity to do so. Nor does the letter of complaint indicate any other effort on his behalf to seek forgiveness. Furthermore, he was evasive when our reporter asked him the question, eventually answering in callous and dismissive terms. Our reporting was fair and accurate,” she maintains.

Smuts concludes that the question of whether Jub Jub has attempted to seek forgiveness from the families of his victims is an obvious line of inquiry and clearly in the public interest. “This complaint should be seen for what it is: An exercise in damage control once Mr Maarohanye was exposed for not having gone through the process he will be leading others through,” she asserts.

Setai maintains the article gave the false impression that Maarohanye had not sought for an intervention with all the families. She says that the families could not be forced to see or even speak with Jub Jub – “yet our assertion remains that an incorrect impression was created”. She again asks for a hearing to also address this matter.

She adds a new aspect to the complaint, namely that Wagner has failed to use the comments given by the head of the TV channel in answer to why Maarohanye had been chosen as host for the show.

My considerations

I am not going to respond to this last issue, as Setai did not complain about it in the first place – and the newspaper therefore did not have a fair opportunity to respond to it. This specific issue is in any case not part of the crux of the complaint.

I agree with Smuts’s argument on this issue: The fact that a victim-offender dialogue was organised, and that everybody concerned got an opportunity to participate in it, did in itself not mean that Maaronhanye had been asking for forgiveness – participation was one thing; a search for forgiveness quite another.

Even more important, though, is the testimony of two of the fathers (who both said Jub Jub had not asked them for forgiveness). To simply ignore their testimony would be unfair and, quite frankly, simply wrong.

‘Killer’

Setai complains that the use of the word “killer” was incorrect and damaging to Jub Jub’s dignity. She says he was found guilty of culpable homicide, and not of murder – his original conviction of murder was overturned “because the court agreed that it could not be established that the car accident was a wilful and premeditated event”.

Yet, she continues, the newspaper still used the word “killer”, inferring that the accident was wilful and premeditated. 

Smuts replies that Maarohanye indeed killed four children. “Culpable homicide is the illegal killing of a person or persons. It is therefore astounding that an objection is raised to us describing him as a killer. He is in fact a killer,” she argues.

Setai replies that the use of the word “killer” was unfair and hurtful to Maarohanye. She argues, “There is a difference in the meaning and description of someone convicted of murder versus culpable homicide – why else would the law ascribe different descriptions? If the law deems it as important enough to give it different meanings, why would a journalist not follow the same reasoning? Why would a fact or factual understanding of two different convictions be simply ignored by a journalist because it doesn’t suit them? It’s for these reasons that I must insist on a hearing please.”

My considerations

It would indeed have been wrong to call Maarohanye a murderer, given the fact that he was eventually found guilty of culpable homicide (and not murder).

However, the word “homicide” in itself carries the message of “killing” (it literally means the killing of a human being). In this case, Maaronhanye has caused the death of some people. That does not mean that the killing was intentional – but still, it was “culpable” (meaning that he was to be blamed for their death).

The fact that the use of the word “killer” has hurt Maaronhanye’s feelings is understandable – but that, with all respect, is not the newspaper’s fault.

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