Kelly Khumalo vs City Press
Mon, Jan 11, 2021
Complaint number: 8348
Lodged by: Ms Magdalene Moonsamy
Date of article: 30 August 2020
Headline: Senzo Meyiwa murder – Hitman says it was Kelly
Page: Front page
Author of article: Solly Maphumulo
Respondent: Ms Tshego Khunou, Willem de Klerk Attorneys
1.1 Khumalo complains that the:
1.1.1 journalist did not afford her reasonable time to properly comment on the allegations against her prior to publication;
1.1.2 reportage was malicious and caused her harm; and
1.1.3 information reported in the article was neither substantiated, verified, accurate nor fair.
2. Sections of the Press Code complained about
The media shall:
· 1.1: take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly;
· 1.7: verify the accuracy of doubtful information, if practicable; if not, this shall be stated;
· 1.8: seek, if practicable, the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication, except when they might be prevented from reporting, or evidence destroyed, or sources intimidated. Such a subject should be afforded reasonable time to respond; if unable to obtain comment, this shall be stated;
· 3.3: exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation, which may be overridden only if it is in the public interest and if:
o 3.3.1. the facts reported are true or substantially true; or
o 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
o 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
o 3.3.4. it was reasonable for the information to be communicated because it was prepared in accordance with acceptable principles of journalistic conduct; or3.3.5. the content was, or formed part of, an accurate and impartial account of a dispute to which the complainant was a party.
3. The text
3.1 The story said an alleged hitman in the killing of former Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa had implicated singer Kelly Khumalo in the murder. Meyiwa was gunned down on 26 October 2014 at the home of Khumalo’s mother in Vosloorus.
3.2 Maphumulo wrote this gunman “told a magistrate in Boksburg that Khumalo, who was Meyiwa’s girlfriend at the time, allegedly hired them [read: he and one other] to kill Meyiwa. Khumalo has always denied allegations that she was involved in his murder”.
3.3 He added, “… according to the confession of the two men – which has been seen by City Press – it took two weeks to plan the hit. In his confession, one of the alleged gunmen claims that they met Khumalo at a mall in the east of Johannesburg, where she told them she wanted Meyiwa ‘eliminated’.”
3.4 According to the confession and a detailed report prepared for the police’s top brass, the reporter continued, Khumalo allegedly told the alleged killers that Meyiwa had promised to give her money, but that he had not kept his word. He had also agreed to marry her, but he was no longer interested in doing so and had not informed Khumalo that he in fact already had a wife.
3.5 In the confession, the alleged hitmen reportedly inter alia claimed that:
3.5.1 they demanded R400 000 for the job, due to Meyiwa’s status;
3.5.2 Khumalo stood up, walked away from where the alleged hitmen were standing and called someone on her cell phone – she then returned to the alleged hitmen to negotiate the price;
3.5.3 the only money available was R250 000 on completion of the assignment;
3.5.4 the money would be paid in full within two months of the murder, but that never happened;
3.5.5 Khumalo later that day called the gang’s leaders, saying she could not afford to pay R250 000; and
3.5.6 Khumalo called the leaders the following day, asking them to collect the money.
4. The arguments
4.1 No reasonable time to properly comment
4.1.1 Khumalo complains that the journalist did not afford her reasonable time to properly comment on the allegations against her prior to publication, which was exacerbated by the fact that it concerned a high-profile case.
4.1.2 She says the reporter sent her a text message at 18:33 on the evening prior to publication – which left her with inadequate time to respond.
4.1.3 She continues, “… there were no questions and such communication was done via text message with the intention of not providing [her] with the opportunity to understand the veracity of the sensationalist nature of the article and without reasonable time nor information requested to answer questions or provided an opportunity to state her case.”
4.1.4 Khunou says City Press made every effort to contact Khumalo in order to give her ample and timeous opportunity to respond. “Repeated attempts were made to contact Ms Khumalo throughout the morning and afternoon of Saturday 29 August from as early as 11:22,” she states.
4.1.5 More specifically, she continues, the reporter:
188.8.131.52 made three phone calls to Khumalo’s number, as well as numerous calls to her manager – all of which went unanswered;
184.108.40.206 called the number for Khumalo’s publicist, Mr Pat Magwaza, three times before speaking to him;
220.127.116.11 obtained a second phone number for Khumalo, which he called six times, without any answer;
18.104.22.168 sent three WhatsApp messages to this number, the first of which was read; and
22.214.171.124 finally sent Khumalo a text message from a friend’s phone. The former responded to this message and her response was reflected in full in the article.
4.1.6 City Press argues that the publication of the article was fair and justified in terms of the prescripts of the Press Code. However, Khunou says the newspaper is still willing to afford Khumalo another opportunity to comment in order to resolve this matter amicably. City Press undertakes to publish her response online and to link it to the original article, she concludes.
4.1.7 As this part of the complaint turns on the question if the journalist gave Khumalo reasonable time to respond, as stipulated in Section 1.8 of the Press Code, I asked the editor to provide me with proof of the attempted communication with Khumalo, as recorded above.
4.1.8 I have received reasonable proof of all these attempts, as recorded above.
4.1.9 Of particular note, is that the journalist sent her the following text message (quoted unedited, and in full): “Dear Kelly My name is Solly Maphumulo, I’m a freelance journalist. I’m working on a story about the Senzo Meyiwa murder case. I’ve been reliably informed that some of the men who have been arrested in connection with the Senzo Meyiwa murder have implicated you. They claim that Senzo Meyiwa’s murder was a hit. They also claim that you promised to pay them R250 000 to take out. What is your response to the allegations? Kind Regards Solly Maphumulo.”
4.1.10 This message, I have established, was indeed sent at 18:33 the day before publication, as submitted by the newspaper. I have no record of the date when this message was sent, but I accept it was sent the day before publication (based on Khumalo’s own admission in this regard).
4.1.11 The response to this message (“Thank you for informing me all the best with your story” – quoted unedited) was also accurately reflected in the story.
4.1.12 From all of the above, I believe that the journalist went out of his way to contact Khumalo prior to publication.
4.1.13 I need to add that:
· the message quoted above indeed contained the central question; and
· if Khumalo was worried that she did not have ample time to respond properly, surely she could have communicated that to the reporter (she did respond to the reporter, but did not make use of the opportunity to voice her dissatisfaction).
4.2 Malice; dignity and reputation
4.2.1 Khumalo complains that the reportage smacked of malice and sensationalism, and that it has caused her harm.
4.2.2 City Press denies this. Khunou submits, “The reportage by City Press was based on official documentation from the South African Police Service, in which the allegations against Ms Khumalo are contained. These allegations are clearly presented as claims made in course of an ongoing investigation. Furthermore, the sources of these allegations are clearly reflected in the article. The article is therefore a fair and accurate reflection of these documents and the allegations contained therein.”
4.2.3 I understand the word “malice” to mean the intention to cause harm. I have no reason to believe that that was the case in this instance.
4.2.4 I hasten to add: Reportage that causes harm to a subject does not automatically constitute a breach of the Press Code. That is why the Preamble to the Code uses the word “unnecessary” (harm) – which the media should avoid. There are times when it is the media’s job and responsibility to cause a subject harm – if it is in the public interest to do so.
4.2.5 The question, therefore, is not if the article has caused Khumalo harm – the question is whether the way in which the journalist reported the story has caused her unnecessary harm. 4.2.6 Given the fact that the reporter did his best to get hold of her, and also that he never presented any allegation as fact, I have no reason to suspect malice in this case.
4.2.7 As far as “sensationalism” goes: Of course, the media can sensationalise a matter that is not sensational in itself; it is equally true, though, that some matters are sensational in nature. In that case, a sensational story is not the media’s fault. I believe the latter is true in this case. In other words, I do not believe that the journalist has put unnecessary spin on the ball.
4.3 Unverified; unsubstantiated; inaccurate; unfair
4.3.1 Khumalo complains that the reporter published allegations by anonymous sources that were neither substantiated nor verified by the police. This, she argues, presented inaccurate and unfair reporting based on unsubstantiated allegations – which caused her serious harm.
4.3.2 She refers to the sentence in the article which read, “… national police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo denied that they had arrested anyone” – which, she argues, “dismisses all further claims made by City Press in their front page article”.
4.3.3 Khunou says the developments in the investigation in the murder of Senzo Meyiwa has been of great public interest and concern for some six years. She argues that the article merely constituted reportage on the progress of the investigation – it did not, nor did it purport to, provide conclusive judgement on the matter.
4.3.4 “City Press acted according to the principles of ethical journalistic practice at all times and the reportage by the newspaper was lawful and justified,” she submits.
4.3.5 At the centre of this part of the complaint, the questions are if the:
· story presented allegations against Khumalo as fact; and
· newspaper was justified to publish the allegations as allegations – in other words, if it was in the public interest to know about the allegations.
4.3.6 Firstly: It is a serious breach of the Press Code to present an allegation as fact – a “practice” that often occurs, I am afraid.
4.3.7 However, having carefully read, and re-read, the article, I am convinced that Maphumulo did not fall into this trap. He consistently used the word “allegedly”, or he quoted either a source, or the Police, or from alleged confessions.
4.3.8 Secondly: I am convinced that the allegations made by the so-called hitmen, coupled with the high-profile nature of the matter, justified City Press to publish the allegations as allegations.
4.3.9 I need to add:
· The fact that Naidoo reportedly denied that any arrests were made, did not “dismiss all further claims made by City Press in their front page article”, as argued by Khumalo – the article never claimed anything, it merely reported claims made by others; and
· It is not the media’s job to establish the veracity of the allegations – that would be for a court of law to decide.
The complaint is dismissed.
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.
Acting Press Ombud