Kaizer Chiefs vs. Sunday Sun


Tue, Jul 17, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

17 July 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Lodged by

 

 

Mr Vina Maphosa, Corporate Communications Manager of Kaizer Chiefs

 

 

Date of article

 

 

10 June 2018

 

 

Headlines, pages

 

 

Khune’s ‘drink spiked!’ (page 1);

‘Jealous friend poisons Khune’ – ‘Goalie sick after drinks’ (page 5)

 

 

Author of article

 

 

Philani Mzila

 

Respondent

 

 

Johan Vos, deputy editor

Complaint                                            

Kaizer Chiefs complains the journalist has:

·         falsely and misleadingly stated that Kaizer Chiefs’ captain Itumeleng Khune had been unable to receive the Best Goalkeeper of the Season accolade at the 2018 Premier Soccer League Awards after his drink had been spiked the night before while socialising with some friends – and that he possibly had been “poisoned” by a “jealous friend” (details below);

·         fabricated the story, as illustrated by the fact that his sources were anonymous, and that he failed to name the restaurant where the incident allegedly took place and which friends he was with on May 28; and

·         merely paid lip-service to the club when asking its spokesperson for comment.

The club adds that the article has violated Khune’s privacy, dignity and reputation.

The text

The article quoted sources who had alleged that Bafana Bafana and Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper and captain Itumeleng Khune could not accept the Best Goalkeeper of the Season accolade because he was sick. A source had reportedly been adamant that Khune’s drinks the evening before the event had been spiked, while another source claimed he had been poisoned by a jealous friend.

The arguments

False, misleading reporting

Kaizer Chiefs complains the following statements in the article were fabricated, inaccurate and misleading:

·          “[‘Goalie sick after drinks.’] This after being unable to accept his Best Goalkeeper of the Season accolade at the 2018 Premier Soccer League Awards held in Sandton, north of Jozi”;

·         “According to insiders, the Amakhosi goalie missed the ceremony because he was allegedly sick. An informant was adamant that Itu’s drink had been spiked the night before the awards”; and

·         “Said the source: ‘We were chilling together the day before the awards having some drinks. But we aren’t sure whether it was the alcohol he was drinking that didn’t sit well with him or someone had tried to spite him because he had a good season… He had to rush off to a doctor for a check-up because it was clear his symptoms were serious’. Another source claimed Itumeleng was ‘poisoned’ by a jealous friend.”

Maphosa says on 11 May 2018 Kaizer Chiefs announced that Khune was unwell due to abdominal problems and would not be travelling to Cape Town for the club’s final match of the season. The coach also mentioned this on television during a pre-match interview. In addition, Kaizer Chiefs also posted an article on its website, communicating this information.

The PSL award ceremony were held on May 29.

He highlights the following:

·         On May 21, the club was informed that Khune had been nominated for Best Goalkeeper of the Season for the 2018 PSL awards;

·         The club’s doctors advised against him attending the ceremony;

·         It was agreed that Khune’s father would accept the award on his son’s behalf;

·         The club duly informed the PSL well in advance of this situation;

·         At the time of the awards ceremony, Khune was on prescribed medication and was abstaining from consuming alcohol; and

·         Khune did not go out with friends on the eve of the event (on May 28).

Vos says Khune was a public figure and celebrity, which made the story newsworthy. He also argues it was in the public interest to publish the article as it had been alleged that the star’s drink had been spiked (read: that he had been the victim in this matter). “Drinks being spiked is a serious issue and it does affect everyone, including celebrities. It  also affects both sexes,” he says.

Maphosa replies the fact that someone is a public figure does not mean that that person’s name should be used to sell the paper by publishing stories that are untested and untruthful.

If Khune was the victim in the article, he asks, why did the story name him and not the perpetrators? He continues, “Is it normal that they protect perpetrators or sources but not the victim? How is missing the awards where sponsors, the leadership of the league, SAFA and other partners are because you were out drinking being a victim?”

Instead, he argues, the article portrayed Khune as an ill-disciplined player and an irresponsible person.

He reiterates:

·         The only verifiable facts are that Khune missed the awards ceremony due to illness – which Kaizer Chiefs had duly communicated;

·          There is no evidence to substantiate the allegations contained in the article; and

·         Khune was ill two weeks before the event.

Maphosa adds that the club is willing to provide details of his condition to me (on condition of confidentiality) to demonstrate that the player could not have been out drinking as he was on prescribed medication, and which would confirm that the player did not miss the awards as a result of his drink being spiked or poisoned.

He also says that the headlines stated the allegations as fact and concludes: “It is deeply concerning that Johan Vos as the deputy editor can try and defend such poor journalist ethics and not admit when his journalist is reporting false information by painting a national asset as an irresponsible athlete. This type of conduct utterly debases the credibility of journalistic integrity. Not only is it an artificial construction falsely attributed to an unsuspecting individual but it also cheats the reader of genuine, credible information, essentially amounting to fraudulent misrepresentation.”

Analysis

The only facts reported in the article (namely that Khune was unable to accept his accolade, and that his father had done so on his behalf – the rest were all allegations) are not in dispute.

Also uncontested is Maphosa’s testimony that:

·         the club has:

o   announced that  Khune was unwell due to abdominal problems and would not be travelling to Cape Town for the club’s final match of the season;

o   communicated this information on its website;

·         the coach has mentioned this on television during a pre-match interview;

·         doctors have advised against Khune attending the ceremony; and

·         he was on prescribed medication at the time of the awards ceremony.

What is in dispute, are the allegations that Khune had socialised with friends on May 28, and that his drink might have been spiked during that time.

The question, therefore, is not if these statements were true, but merely if the publication had enough ground to believe it was justified in publishing those allegations.

Vos has supplied me with the names and contact details of two sources who were willing to talk to this office. He has also identified a third source, but for personal reasons that person refuses to discuss the matter with me. He also informed me as to the place where the alleged incident took place (which was not at a restaurant).

My office spoke to the two sources, and based on their testimony I am satisfied that it was reasonable for the newspaper to have believed that it was reasonable to report their allegations as allegations.

The same goes for the headline – which did not state the allegations as fact (the inverted commas indicated that the statements were the views of sources).

Anonymous sources; absence of details

Maphosa says the fact that the “sources” were anonymous further demonstrated that this was a fabricated story. He adds that the journalist also failed to name the restaurant where the incident allegedly took place, and which friends he had been with on May 28.

Vos replies that the newspaper’s sources were present at the private venue (not a restaurant, as Maphosa says). 

He adds it might be true that Khune had missed the awards due to the abdominal pain, as stated by Maphosa, but maintains that the information from the sources was credible.

Maphosa replies that information from “sources” can be wrong. He argues that a source could say anything, and asks what the journalist did to verify his information before publishing it.

He specifically wants to know if the newspaper has at least have the name of the place where Khune allegedly was, if it can produce evidence that the player was there and was drinking that night, or if it can mention the name of the doctor or hospital he was allegedly rushed to on May 28.

He adds that Khune is prepared to produce an affidavit of where he was on the said date.

Analysis

I have already dealt with this issue. While it is better for a newspaper not to make use of anonymous sources, there are circumstances where a publication has to protect their identities.

I am satisfied that this is one such case.

Comment: mere lip-service

Maphosa says the journalist contacted him on 10 May for comment – but states that that was nothing more than “merely paying lip service to the club”.

He adds he explained to the reporter that the story was not true and that the club had communicated that Khune had been suffering from abdominal problems for at least ten days before the awards – and that his absence had nothing to do with poison or a spiked drink.

Vos does not reply to this part of the complaint.

Maphosa replies that the newspaper did not even afford Khune a right of reply. He also wants to know why the newspaper has published an unverified story and not used the information that he had supplied the reporter with.

Analysis

I communicated with Vos about this matter, as I needed clarity on exactly what Mzila had asked Maphosa, and how the latter had responded.

The deputy editor told me that the two had communicated via telephone – therefore, I have no way of verifying what was said between them. However, the journalist told Vos that Maphosa did not deny that Khune had been drinking, or that his drink had been spiked.

This set off all kinds of alarm bells.

I do not believe – not for a moment – that Maphosa would not have denied the allegations, if Mzila asked him about it.

This leaves me with only two reasonable alternatives, namely that Mzila did not:

·         ask Maphosa about the allegations; or

·         report the spokesman’s response to those matters.

The one alternative is as bad as the other…

Let me then ponder on the first alternative: The gist of the story was the allegation that Khune’s drink had been spiked, or alternatively that he did not handle his alcohol very well – and as such, Mzila should have asked him about those allegations. Section 1.8 of the Press Code requires from a newspaper to give the subject of critical reportage a right of reply – and it was exactly those allegations that made Nkune a “subject of critical reportage”.

I find it hard to believe that a reporter could write a story based on allegations of this nature, without asking a spokesperson about them. What could have been the purpose of the reporter’s phone call, if not to ask Maphosa about the allegations that would form the crux of the story?

If indeed the journalist did not ask Maphosa about those allegations, I need to agree that the journalist’s phone call was superficial and merely a box-ticking exercise – and not in line with what the Press Code requires.

Secondly, if Mzila did not report Maphosa’s comments on this central issue, if would be as serious as not asking him about it in the first place.

My only conclusion, therefore, is that the reporter has erred – either he did not ask Maphosa about Nkune’s alleged drinking (as he should have), or he did not report the spokesperson’s response to that question (as he should have).

Privacy, dignity, reputation

Kaizer Chiefs complains that article has violated Khune’s privacy, dignity and reputation, as the reportage has presented him as ill-disciplined, with friends who have been a danger to him.           

Vos denies this, arguing that the reportage presented Khune as an alleged victim and adding that nothing pejorative had been written about him. He adds that everything in the article was attributed to sources; the only statements of facts were that Khune had missed the awards and that his father had received the award on his behalf.

Maphosa says that, while it is not in dispute that Khune is a (popular) public figure, fabricating and publishing false information about him amounted to a violation of his privacy, dignity and reputation.

Analysis

Having accepted that the newspaper was justified in publishing the allegations in question as allegations, it follows that there is no ground to find that the reportage has unnecessarily violated Khune’s dignity or reputation.

Also, because Khune is such a celebrity, I do not believe that the newspaper has violated his privacy to such an extent that it warrants a finding that it has breached the Press Code in this regard.

Finding

Either the reporter did not ask Maphosa about Khune’s alleged drinking, or he did not report the spokesperson’s response to that question. In either case, this was in breach of Section 1.8 of the Press Code that states, “The media shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication… If the media are unable to obtain such comment, this shall be reported.”

The rest of the complaint is dismissed.

Seriousness of breaches                                              

Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of the Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1 – minor errors which do not change the thrust of the story), serious breaches (Tier 2), and serious misconduct (Tier 3).                                          

The breach of the Press Code as indicated above is a Tier 2 offence.

Sanction

Sunday Sun is severely reprimanded for either not asking Kaizer Chiefs’ spokesperson about Khune’s alleged drinking, or for not reporting his response to that question.

The newspaper is directed to publish this reprimand on top of page 5, with a headline that contains Khune’s surname. (The story did not appear on the website, which is why the sanction is limited to the print edition only.)

The text should:

·         be published at the earliest opportunity after the time for an application for leave to appeal has lapsed or, in the event of such an application, after that ruling;

·     refer to the complaint that was lodged with this office;

·     end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”;

·     be published with the logo of the Press Council (attached); and

·     be prepared by the publication and be approved by me.

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