Kaizer Chiefs vs. Sunday World


Thu, Mar 15, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud and a Panel of Adjudicators

14 March 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Complainant

 

 

Kaizer Chiefs

 

Lodged by

 

 

 

Mr Alpheus ‘Vina’ Maphosa, Kaizer Chiefs Corporate Communications Manager

 

 

Date of articles

 

 

26 November 2017 and 10 December 2017

 

Headlines

 

 

Bitter words over Shabba’s luxury car – Star’s agent and Chiefs’ boss lady in war of words over car sponsorship deal (first article)

and

Chiefs staff revolt over Xmas bonuses – Club refuse to hike salaries, pay perks (second article)

 

 

Front page kicker; headline

 

 

Chiefs war over Shabba’s new hot wheels (first story)

and

CHIEFS CASH CRUNCH – Staff revolt over Xmas bonus, wage hikes – Kaizer Motaung’s daughter allegedly shoots angry email at managers (second story)

 

 

Online

 

 

Both articles

 

Pages

 

 

4 and 2

 

Author of article

 

 

Ngwako Malatji (both articles)

 

Respondent

 

 

Wendy Pretorius, managing editor


HEARING

 

 

Date and place

 

 

Johannesburg; 6 March 2018

 

Complainant represented by

 

 

Maphosa; Jessica and Kemiso Motaung; Ernest Landheer; Jabu Mbanjani

 

 

Publication represented by

 

 

Pretorius, Malatji; Amos Mananyetso

 

Also in attendance

 

 

Joe Latakgoma; Helene Eloff

 

Members of panel

 

Public representative: Paula Fray

Media representative: Tshamano Makhadi

 

Complaint                                            

The first article

The gist of Chiefs’s complaint is that the article and the headline were untruthful, unfair and unbalanced as they were based on unsubstantiated hearsay by second-hand, anonymous sources, to which none of the subjects were given a reasonable opportunity to respond.

In particular, the club complains that the following allegations were untrue and wrongly presented as fact (in both the headline and the story):

·         There had been some conflict (a “war”, “tussle” or “imbroglio”) between Chiefs’s marketing director Jessica Motaung, and one of the club’s players (Siphiwe Tshabalala) and his agent (Jazzman Nahlakgane), in which the latter had asked Chiefs’ football director Bobby Motaung to mediate;

·         Jessica Motaung had:

o   been the “boss lady” of Kaizer Chiefs;

o   demanded that Tshabalala drive one of the Toyota vehicles driven by other players as part of the club’s sponsorship deal with the car maker; and

o   instructed Tshabalala to remove the branding of his foundation from the car.

Chiefs also complains that the newspaper:

·         did not explain how its sources came to know of the existence and contents of these alleged communications, nor why they should be trusted; and

·         did not give it, or Jessica and Bobby Motaung, a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations – calling the statement that “the Motaungs ignored our phone calls and text messages we sent them” untruthful and unfair. 

The club concludes that the article unfairly, without any substance and without offering an alternative view, portrayed Ms Motaung as an unprofessional and unreasonable bully who was high on power – which has recklessly tarnished her dignity and reputation, and reinforced the inference that the newspaper has allowed itself to be used to advance a personal agenda against her.

The second article

This complaint is materially the same as the first one.

The gist of Chiefs’s complaint, again, is that the article and the headline were untruthful, unfair and unbalanced as they were based on unsubstantiated hearsay by second-hand, anonymous sources, to which none of the subjects were given a reasonable opportunity to respond.

The complaint is (again):

·         about the “fictional” conflict between Ms Motaung and Tshabalala;

·         about calling Ms Motaung the “boss lady” of Chiefs;

·         that the journalist did not approach any of the allegedly affected staff members for verification or corroboration of this allegation – which amounted to hearsay, garnered from people with an agenda against her; and

·         that certain untrue allegations were presented as fact.

In particular, the club also complains that the following statements in the second article were untrue:

·         “In the past years [Chiefs] communicated to [staff] in November how much they would get for their bonuses”;

·         The “finance staff” told the “angered employees” that “there would be no bonus this year”;

·         Ms Motaung had:

o   decided not to give staff bonuses and salary increases, and to force members of staff to belong to a medical aid scheme which is one of the club’s sponsors; and

o   embarked “on a witch-hunt to sniff out employees who were considered to have leaked stories to the media”; and

·         Ms Kemiso (Jessica’s sister) Motaung’s correspondence to several managers had been a “stinging e-mail to staff members telling them to hit the road if they were not happy with their jobs”, had “resulted in staff morale reaching its lowest ebb”, and had “led to some staff members contemplating to boycott the Christmas party at PH Network Cafe in Mondeor”.

In addition, the club also complains that the:

·         main headline on the front page was not a reasonable reflection of the contents of the article; and

·         journalist did not give it, or the Motaungs, a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations, calling the statement that “the Motaungs ignored our phone calls and text messages we sent them” untruthful and unfair.                                                                                                                              

The club again concludes that the article was unfair and unbalanced as it portrayed Ms Motaung as an unprofessional and unreasonable bully, tarnishing her dignity and reputation in this process.

The texts

The first article said that an acrimonious war had broken out between Kaizer Chiefs “boss lady” Jessica Motaung and prominent football agent Jazzman Mahlakgane, allegedly over the image rights of the club’s midfield dynamo, Siphiwe Tshabalala, with Mahlakgane allegedly threatening to drag the club to court if the matter was not resolved in his favour.

Two “highly placed” sources, with intimate knowledge of the imbroglio, reportedly alleged that the conflict had ignited when Chiefs instructed Tshabalala to refrain from driving a sponsored luxury Lexus sedan.

Malatji also wrote that Ms Motaung had been understood to have red-carded the deal and demanded that the Bafana Bafana player drive one of the Toyota vehicles used by other players as part of the club’s sponsorship deal – and when he showed them the middle finger, Motaung allegedly instructed him to remove the branding of his foundation from the car.

The story reflected a short statement by Maphosa, and added that the Motaungs had ignored the newspaper’s phone calls and text messages.

The second article said an annual increase and Christmas bonus rebellion at Kaizer Chiefs had erupted at the club’s headquarters, which allegedly had resulted in “boss lady” Jessica Motaung angrily wishing her father Kaizer Motaung would release her from her job.

The mutiny allegedly had reached a fervent pitch when Kemiso Motaung, Jessica’s sister, wrote a stinging e-mail to staff members telling them to hit the road if they were not happy with their jobs.

Her alleged rant reportedly resulted in staff morale reaching its lowest ebb, and had also led to some staff members contemplating to boycott a Christmas party.

The arguments

Maphosa

First article

Elaborating on his complaint, as documented above, Maphosa says Sunday World has failed to obtain even the vaguest confirmation from any one of the four parties, and that any of the “alleged” communications ever took place, let alone as described by these second-hand sources.

He submits, “The ‘allegations’ are thus nothing more than unsubstantiated hearsay from anonymous sources, which cannot form the basis of reliable reporting.” These allegations, he adds, were mere rumours, suppositions or even fabrications by people with an agenda against Jessica Motaung – who was not the “boss lady” of Kaizer Chiefs, but its marketing director. 

He says that Ms Motaung:

·         could not logically have:

o   “demanded that [Tshabalala] drive one of the Toyota vehicles driven by other players as part of the club’s sponsorship deal with the car maker”, as there was no such “deal” for other players, and as Tshabalala’s Lexus itself was a “Toyota vehicle”;

o   “instructed Tshabalala to remove the branding of his foundation from the car”, as his car did not have any such branding on it (as was evident from the many photographs of the car, from all angles, on Tshabalala’s Instagram account); and

·         did not hold a meeting concerning Tshabalala’s Lexus, and Bobby Motaung has never been requested to organise or attend any such meeting.

Regarding not having been given a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations, Maphosa says he was approached for comment only on the morning of November 25, less than a day before publication, with no written questions and no explanation for the urgency. Therefore, he argues, he was never put in any reasonable position to obtain input from Chiefs.

He also denies that the Motaungs ignored the newspaper’s phone calls and text messages, as reported. He says that, although they might have received one or more missed calls from unknown numbers on the day before the article was published, they would have had no way of knowing these were from the reporter.

Second article

Maphosa says none of the three “independent” and unnamed sources were actually members of the “unhappy” staff, as they all referred to the affected staff in the third person.

He adds that the newspaper did not even approach any of the affected staff members for verification or corroboration of the existence of the “revolt”, “rebellion” or “mutiny”, let alone for the “alleged” reasons for it.

This, he argues, made the allegations nothing more than unsubstantiated hearsay from anonymous sources, which cannot form the basis of reliable reporting. And again, he stresses, certain falsehoods in the article were not even qualified as allegations, but presented as fact. For example, he explains, it was untrue that there was a staff remuneration dispute at the club, as reported in the headline and the first two paragraphs of the second article.

Maphosa also says Ms Motaung could not logically have made any decision not to give staff bonuses and salary increases, as she had nothing to do with staff remuneration.

He adds it is also untrue that:

·         Chiefs communicated to staff in November how much they would get for their bonuses – he says there is no history of any such communication about bonuses, and staff understand that nobody’s contract includes a right to a bonus;

·         the finance staff  told “angered employees” that “there would be no bonus this year”, as no decision on bonuses had been made at the time of publication;

·         Ms Motaung:

o   decided to force staff members to belong to a medical aid scheme which was one of the club’s sponsors, as this matter has always been, and remains, voluntary – and besides, many of the staff are members of different schemes; and

o   embarked on a witch-hunt to sniff out employees who were considered to have leaked stories to the media.

Maphosa admits that Kemiso Motaung did write an e-mail to several managers, expressing concern over brand damage caused to Chiefs by false rumours being published in the press and attributed to anonymous insiders.  However, he says, “[T]his could not truthfully be characterised as a ‘stinging email to staff members telling them to hit the road if they were not happy with their jobs’.”  He calls this characterisation a gross distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation of the e-mail’s content.

As such, he argues that this correspondence could not have “resulted in staff morale reaching its lowest ebb”. He also notes that the e-mail was only sent to a small number of senior staff members with an interest in protecting the Kaizer Chiefs brand.  It also could not have “led to some staff members contemplating to boycott the Christmas party at PH Network Cafe in Mondeor”, as that venue had never even been considered for the Christmas party.

Maphosa also says the newspaper did not give either Jessica or Kemiso Motaung a reasonable opportunity to respond. He adds that the questions sent to him via WhatsApp were unreasonably vague and speculative, and did not even mention material parts of the story (such as Kemiso’s e-mail).

He also asserts the statement that the Motaungs “ignored our phone calls” was untruthful and unfair. He says neither Jessica nor Kemiso Motaung were aware of any such attempts by the reporter to contact them about this article, whether telephonically or by e-mail.

He concludes that this reportage has presented the Motaungs as evasive or obstructive, without any factual foundation.

Regarding both stories, Pretorius says Sunday World had no reason to doubt the validity of information received from its sources as they have been reliable in the past, and adds that the newspaper is ethically bound to protect their identities.

The editor:

·         denies any agenda against Jessica Motaung, saying that the newspaper has published stories about Kaizer Chiefs during 2017 which did not even refer to her;

·         notes that the word allegedly / alleged was used throughout both articles, and argues that the headlines merely summarised the stories;

·         agrees that Motaung was the marketing director and one of the club’s senior officials;

·         asserts that his picture did not contain the branding because Tshabalala was asked to remove it; and

·         denies that the story has tarnished Motaung’s dignity or reputation.

Pretorius says the newspaper phoned both Mr and Ms Motaung, but neither of them answered the calls. Malatji also sent her an SMS on November 24.

She adds that Maphosa contacted the reporter to say he was asked by the club to inquire what story Malatji was writing. The reporter gave him the details, and Maphosa promised to comment after speaking to his bosses. Malatji then phoned Maphosa, and published his response.

Regarding the second story, Pretorius says Jessica, Kemiso, Kaizer and Bobby Motaung were contacted for comment, but they did not answer any calls.

She adds that Maphosa was called telephonically, and requested written questions be sent to him. These questions were e-mailed to him on November 7, and he acknowledged receipt thereof. She adds that Maphosa was also contacted via SMS and telephone the following day to remind him to respond, and again on December 9. However, he did not answer the calls, or responded to the SMSes.

Maphosa replies the newspaper does not deny that:

·         both articles were based on nothing but hearsay – “On this basis alone, we are entitled to a full retraction and front page apology”;

·         their sources made false allegations; specifically that there was never any:

o   conflict (“war”, “tussle”, “imbroglio”) between Kaizer Chiefs and Tshabalala (and his agent), nor any meeting to resolve any such conflict; and

o   “revolt”, “rebellion” or “mutiny” at Kaizer Chiefs concerning salaries or bonuses (which were paid, as a matter of verifiable fact);

·         it never contacted Tshabalala about the first article;

·         it was a gross exaggeration and distortion to describe Ms Jessica Motaung as Kaizer Chiefs’ “boss lady” in both articles, and not even once as “marketing director”. He argues that the newspaper’s bald denial of an agenda against her is thus hard to believe. He adds, “In any event, we never accused Sunday World itself of having an agenda against Jessica Motaung, but of ‘allowing itself to be used as a platform for persons, protected by anonymity, to advance a personal agenda against Jessica Motaung’ ”;

·         it did not send any written questions directly to Jessica, Kemiso or Bobby Motaung, for either of the articles – the newspaper states they were “called telephonically”, without explaining why it never sent them an e-mail, nor why it expected them to answer calls from unknown numbers on a weekend; and

·         the front page of the print edition were in breach of the Press Code.

He also states that he did not ask the newspaper to reveal its sources – rather, the newspaper should take the Ombud into its confidence and explain what steps it took to verify the allegations made by confidential sources (in other words, why the public should trust these unnamed sources, who clearly had an axe to grind). He argues that, as the publication has failed to do so, it must therefore be assumed to have taken no such steps.

Maphosa also denies that he contacted Sunday World in advance of the first article, and “promised to comment after speaking to his bosses” – he says he received a telephone call for the first time on Saturday November 25, less than 24 hours before the first article was published, and was asked to comment immediately. This, he asserts, he did to the best of his ability by saying, “The matter was not brought to our attention as the communication department to communicate out to the public through media channels.” He concludes, “The alternative version given by Sunday World in its response to the complaint thus does not even square with the published version of its own article.”

Regarding the complaint that the articles and their headlines presented certain allegations as fact, Maphosa remarks that the newspaper simply refers to places where the word “allegedly” was used, but does not deal with those statements where it has not been used.   

In conclusion, he says it is disingenuous for the newspaper to state that the headlines were “summarisations” of the articles, as the Press Code instead demands “a reasonable reflection” of the content of a story. 

“In any event,” he continues, “the headlines are not even ‘summarisations, as Sunday World admits that the articles are based on nothing but ‘allegations’, yet it does not explain why the headlines did not contain any quotation marks or question marks, as they should have.”

Analysis

Sources: Unsubstantiated hearsay?

The central question is if Maphosa is correct in stating that the reporting was based on unsubstantiated hearsay by second-hand (anonymous) sources.

Pretorius has furnished the Ombud with the names and designations of four main sources, whose identities the panel is not at liberty to disclose.

The panel’s first question is if these sources are primary sources or not. We are mindful of the fact that a “main” source is not necessarily also a “primary” source – the latter is a person or documentation which has or contains first-hand knowledge of matters, which a main source does not necessarily have.

In this instance, the panel is satisfied that at least two of the main sources could be described as “primary sources”.

However, that in itself does not guarantee that the information coming from them was trustworthy, as primary sources who remain anonymous may easily have ulterior motives. For this reason, this office has now – in line with the Press Code – said ad nauseam that the use of anonymous sources is a dangerous practice, and that such information should be corroborated or verified.

The next question, then, is if the information coming from these sources was trustworthy and reasonably true – which can only be established if it was properly corroborated. (This presented the reason for holding a hearing in the first place, as the Ombud was not convinced that that had been the case.)

Therefore, the panel shall first scrutinise what steps the reporter took to properly verify his information. We need to stress it is of no use to try and corroborate a source’s information by consulting another source who is in the same position – proper verification means that information should be garnered from first-hand people or documentation.

The question is if Malatji has adhered to this practice.

The first article

Proper verification?

At the hearing, there was a dispute over who called whom prior to publication, and exactly when this took place.

The panel is inclined to believe that the only contact the reporter had with Maphosa was a few hours prior to his deadline, and at an inopportune time for the spokesperson at that.

The journalist also sent an SMS to Jessica Motaung the night before his deadline, but he merely asked her to “revert” to him, without specifying what the issue was about. Even if she did see the message, which she denies, the panel would not have blamed her for not responding to such a vague request.

Except if anyone else was in fact present when the issue over Tshabalala was discussed, the only primary sources were Motaung, Tshabalala and Mahlakgane – and, of course, the club’s official spokesperson.

The panel also notes that the journalist saw it fit not to contact one of the primary subjects of the story, namely Tshabalala. Despite the fact that Tshabalala has a manager, he could have could have been contacted to find verify the allegations. We have already dealt with Malatji’s poor attempts at contacting Motaung and Maphosa. Kudos to the journalist for trying to get comment from Mahlakgane, however.

In the absence of any meaningful comment from the main subjects of the story, the journalist then reverted to quoting his sources.

This, the panel believes, falls short of an honest attempt at verifying information.

As there was no real urgency in publishing the story, the reporter should have waited until after he had given all the relevant primary parties a proper opportunity to respond before going to print.

With this in mind, the panel now turns to the complaints regarding the first article.

The complaints

Acrimonious war

The story stated as fact that an “acrimonious war” had broken out between Motaung and Mahlakgane, involving Tshabalala.

We do accept that there was unhappiness about the image rights of Tshabalala, but we have no evidence that:

·         this “unhappiness” could justifiably have been described as a “war”, let alone an “acrimonious” one; and

·         the reporter asked any primary source if the unhappiness could have been called an “acrimonious war”.

Malatji stated he made the error of stating this allegation as fact, without any attempt at proper verification. The reporter put too much spin on this ball – which any soccer player would have been proud of.

Demanding to drive a Toyota

The sentence reads, “Motaung, however, is understood to have … demanded that Tshabalala drive one of the Toyota vehicles driven by other players as part of the club’s sponsorship deal with the car maker.”

At the hearing, Jessica Motaung explained that there was no such deal – players could “drive what they want”, she submitted, and added that they indeed did just that. It follows, she argued, that she never “demanded” anything of that kind.

Again, the panel has no evidence that the journalist tried to verify this accusation – we have no reason to believe that the source, who was clearly quoted in this instance, was indeed a primary one (read: that the source had actually been present when Motaung had “demanded” that the player drive a Toyota vehicle).

Motaung also convincingly argued that the Lexus, which Tshabalala drove, was itself a Toyota product – which, in fact, ridicules the allegation in question (as the player was driving a Toyota in any case).

Again, the panel firmly believes that this allegation should have been verified with a primary source.

Remove the branding

The sentence immediately following the one quoted above read, “When he showed them the middle finger, Motaung allegedly instructed him to remove the branding of his foundation from the car.”

Again, Tshabalala’s views were not solicited and again, the only other primary source regarding this alleged incident would be Motaung herself – who refutes this statement.

Meetings

The story stated as fact that Jessica Motaung and Mahlakgane had met several times in connection with the above-mentioned matters, and that Bobby Motaung had been asked to organise a meeting with her to sort matters out.

Again, these statements were attributed to sources and again, Jessica Motaung disputes them.

Primary sources in this instance would have been Jessica Motaung, Mahkalgane and Bobby Motaung – and again, the journalist did not garner comments from any of these affected parties.

The second article

Proper verification?

This time, Malatji sent Maphosa, who can be considered a primary source due to his position in the club, an e-mail well in advance (three days before publication).

The panel also notes that this time, the issues were not personal (as was the case with the Tshabalala story), but about matters which affected everybody at the club. That being the case, there was no need for Malatji to contact anybody else than Maphosa (whose job it is to respond on behalf of the club to such matters).

The spokesman opted not to respond to the e-mail, which is not the newspaper’s fault.

But Malatji did more than that – according to the newspaper’s phone records, the reporter called Maphosa’s cell number twice the day after he sent his e-mail. He made the first call at 15:48, and let the phone rang for 11 seconds; at 15:49 he called again, and this time the phone rang for 29 seconds.

This time, Malatji tried to verify his information with a primary source.

Having said that, the panel also needs to scrutinise exactly what Malatji had asked, and especially what he had not asked, with reference to what he eventually published. The mere fact that a reporter has asked someone for comment does not guarantee that the journalist has done so adequately.

The principle which we are going to apply is the following: The panel concurs that Sunday World had reason to believe their sources were credible. We are therefore willing to accept that the newspaper was justified to publish allegations as allegations coming from these sources (but not as fact, as sometimes happened) – but only after it has tried to verify its information.

With that in mind, we note that the journalist mentioned the following issues (with the panel’s comments next to them):

 

What Malatji asked about

 

 

Our comments

 

About annual increases, which employees were said not to have received; and about Jessica Motaung having not said a word about that issue despite numerous inquiries.

 

 

Malatji presented this as the view of a source – which he was justified to do (as he had asked the spokesperson about it).

 

Regarding December bonuses, about which the financial department allegedly said there would be none because there was no money, and about which Motaung allegedly also did not say a word either.

 

 

The same as above.

 

About spending money on a Christmas party, instead of on bonuses.

 

 

The same as above.

 

Regarding a new medical aid scheme, which employees said they could not afford and which Motaung had forced them to belong to.

 

 

The same as above.

 

 

About Kemilo Motaung’s e-mail to staff members.

 

 

According to correspondence, Malatji asked Maphosa about this matter telephonically. Given the nature of the issue, the panel does not blame the reporter for calling her e-mail “stinging”.

 

 

Regarding low morale at the club as a result of the disputes.

 

 

Malatji was justified to state that Motaung’s “alleged rant” had resulted in staff morale reaching its lowest ebb – besides the fact that the reporter asked the spokesperson about it, the panel also believes that employees were in this instance in a better position to make a statement about low morale than management was.

 

To be clear: The panel reiterates we accept that Malatji was justified to publish the above-mentioned allegations as allegations, given the fact that:

·         at least some of his sources were credible; and

·         he tried to verify the allegations with an appropriate source – the fact that the latter never responded to this question is not the newspaper’s problem, and the panel cannot blame Sunday World for publishing these specific allegations.

However, there were also some aspects which Malatji reported on, about which the panel has no evidence that he had asked primary sources about.

 

What Malatji did not ask

 

 

Our comments

 

The headline uses the word “revolt”; the story mentioned, as fact, a “bonus rebellion” and “mutiny” amongst employees.

 

 

Malatji did not even ask Maphosa about it – this was unfair, as it probably painted a wrong picture of the situation at the club.

 

 

About Motaung having allegedly embarked on a witch-hunt to sniff out whistle blowers, and that she had wished that her father could release her and allow her to go work abroad.

 

These were stated as allegations – but unjustifiably so, as the relevant parties were not asked for comment about them.

At the hearing, the panel wanted to know what form this “revolt”, “rebellion” or “mutiny” took. The only answer we got was that members of staff had held some informal meetings. The panel does not believe that such “informal meetings” could constitute a “revolt”, and is convinced that such reporting was misleading.

Other issues

‘Boss lady’ (both articles)

The panel takes the newspaper’s point that Sunday World, as a tabloid, has a certain style which is foreign to broadsheet papers; we also consider, though, that other subjects in the stories did receive proper titles, which was not the case with Jessica Motaung.

While finding this unfortunate, the panel does not believe that calling Motaung “boss lady” was serious enough so as to justify a decision that the newspaper was in breach of the Press Code on this count.

The Motaungs ‘ignoring’ the paper’s phone calls

It was unfortunate that Motaung did not open her SMS messages in time, but that was not Malatji’s problem; on the other hand, he did send her a vague message, and not long before deadline at that. Even if Motaung saw the message, she could have decided not to respond especially when she did not know where the message was coming from or what that was about.

The panel is not in a position to rule on this matter.

Headlines

The first story

The headline on the front page read, Chiefs war over Shabba’s new hot wheels; the story on page 4 was headlined, Bitter words over Shabba’s luxury car – Star’s agent and Chiefs’ boss lady in war of words over car sponsorship deal.

The panel has already decided that the journalist was not justified to:

·         use the word “war” in the story; it follows that the same should go for the headline on page 1; and

·         state that there was a furore over a car sponsorship deal – which should also go for the headline.

The second story

The front page reported, CHIEFS CASH CRUNCH – Staff revolt over Xmas bonus, wage hikes – Kaizer Motaung’s daughter allegedly shoots angry email at managers; the headline on page 2 stated, Chiefs staff revolt over Xmas bonuses – Club refuse to hike salaries, pay perks.

The panel notes that Malatji asked Maphosa about the allegation that employees had heard from “the finance people” that there would be no bonuses that year “because there is no money”. The reporter requested the spokesperson if he could confirm or deny that allegation – to which Maphosa did not respond (although he had enough time to do so).

The lack of a denial, as well as the allegations about bonuses and salary increases, made the choice of the words “Chiefs cash crunch” justifiable.

However, the word “revolt” put too much spine on the ball, as explained above.

Conclusion

In its complaint, Kaizer Chiefs accused Sunday World’s sources – and not the newspaper itself – of having an agenda against the club. That is possibly true.

Whilst the newspaper may have failed to properly verify its information, the panel does not believe for one moment that the newspaper has any such agenda.

Given the panel’s considerations above, as well as the findings which are to follow, we believe that the reportage was unfair, unsubstantiated and one-sided with regards to Jessica Motaung.

On the other hand, though, Kaizer Chiefs should take part of this blame for failing to respond to some issues regarding her – which, in the end, has persuaded the panel not to come to a definite finding on this part of the complaint.

Finding

The first article

Proper verification?

The journalist did try to verify his information with enough primary sources. He did contact Mahlakgane, but he did not do the same with Tshabalala. Also, his efforts to contact Maphosa and Motaung were feeble and inadequate. This was in breach of Section 1.8 of the Press Code which states, “The media shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…”

‘Acrimonious war’

This statement was presented as fact, and was in breach of Section 1.3 of the Code: “Only what may reasonably be true, having regard to the sources of the news, may be presented as fact, and such facts shall be published fairly with reasonable regard to context and importance. Where a report is not based on facts or is founded on opinion, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly.

It follows that it was also in breach of Section 1.1 of the Code: “The media shall take care to report news…fairly.”

Demanding to drive a Toyota; removing the branding; meetings

These allegations were published without any attempt of verification with a primary source. This was in breach of Section 1.8 of the Code.

The second article

Proper verification?

Regarding the complaint that the reporter had not properly verified the allegations, the panel dismisses those allegations which were presented as allegations and which the reporter had asked the spokesperson about. This goes for the issues of annual increases, bonuses, spending money on a Christmas party instead of bonuses, Motaung’s decision to force members to become part of a certain medical scheme, Kemiso’s e-mail to staff members, and the low morale at the club as a result of the disputes.

As the statements of fact of a “bonus rebellion” and a “mutiny” at the club, without any verification, was in breach of the following sections of the Code:

·         1.3: “ … Where a report is not based on facts or is founded on opinion, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly”;

·         1.8: “The media shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…”; and

·         1.1: “The media shall take care to report news … fairly.”

The publication of the allegation that Motaung had embarked on a witch-hunt to sniff out whistle blowers was in breach of Section 1.8 of the Code.

‘Boss lady’ (both articles)

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

The Motaungs ‘ignoring’ the paper’s phone calls

There is no finding on this issue.

Headlines

The first story

The use of the word “war” on the front page was in breach of Section 1.1 and 1.3 of the Code. The rest of this part of the complaint is dismissed.

The second story

The use of the word “revolt” was in breach of Section 1.1 and 1.3 of the Code. The rest of this part of the complaint is dismissed.

Conclusion

There is no finding on the general complaint of unbalanced reporting aimed at Jessica Motaung.

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 breaches of the Press Code as indicated above are all Tier 2 offences.

Sanction

Sunday World is directed to apologise to Kaizer Chiefs and Jessica Motaung for:

·         unfairly and without proper verification stating as fact that:

o   an “acrimonious war” had broken out between her and Maklakgane at Kaizer Chiefs soccer club, and for using the word “war” in the front-page headline (first article);

o   there was a “bonus rebellion” and a “mutiny” at the club, and for using the word “revolt” in both the front-page and inside headlines (second article); and

·         publishing the allegation that Jessica Motaung had embarked on a witch-hunt to sniff out whistle blowers without proper verification.

The apology should:

·         be announced on top of the front page;

·         be published on top of either page 2 or page 4;

·         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”; and

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

Addressing on sanction

Section 5.5 of the Complaints Procedures reads, “At the conclusion of a hearing, and after a Panel has reached a decision, both parties shall be entitled to address the Panel, personally or in writing, on sanctions and where appropriate mitigation.”

This section should not be confused with an appeal – it merely gives each party an opportunity to address the panel on the sanction itself. The opportunity to appeal, either the finding or the sanction, remains open for the next seven workings days, as outlined below.

Repeat offender?

At the hearing, Maphosa insisted that Sunday World in general, and Malatji in particular, were repeat offenders, and requested the panel to take appropriate action in this regard.

He referred us to the following findings by this office, some of which were about verification, against the newspaper:

·         Joyce Molamu (29 February 2012) – written by Malatji and Norman Masungwini;

·         The Maarohanye family (30 May 2015) – written by Mananyetso and Malatji; and

·         Sjula Dlamini vs. Sunday World (9 July 2017) – written by Aubrey Mothombeni.

The panel notes that this finding is the third one against Malatji in a period spanning over six years. If, say, it was his third transgression in six months, it would have been a different matter.

The same goes for the newspaper – a fourth transgression in more than six years cannot amount to a decision of recidivism.

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.

Paula Fray

Tshamano Makhadi

Johan Retief