Lubabalo Mabuyane vs Mail&Guardian


Mon, Feb 3, 2020

Finding: Complaint 4404

Date of article: 17 May, 2019

Headline: “Eastern Cape ANC bigwigs in ‘loan’ fracas”

Page: 3

Author: Thanduxolo Jika

Online: Yes

Particulars

This finding is based on a written complaint by Mr Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, representing Mr Lubabalo Oscar Mabuyane, the Eastern Cape Premier. It is also based on a written response from the Mail&Guardian, Mr Sicwetsha’s response to that, and further written and verbal consultations between myself, the newspaper and the complainant.

Complaint

Mr Mabuyane, Premier of the Eastern Cape province, complains about an article in the M&G headlined “Eastern Cape ANC bigwigs in ‘loan’ fracas”. At the time the article in question was published, he was the ANC’s candidate for Premier and the party’s provincial chair. He is represented in this complaint by his spokesperson, Mr Sicwetsha.

Mr Sicwetsha complains about the article on several grounds:

  1. On omission of “material information” published. Mr Sicwetsha says the reporter had sent him several questions but ignored the reply to one of those questions in the published piece.
  2. That a staff member of the paper had “misrepresented” himself and “trespassed into the private property of Mr Mabuyane”, invading his privacy. It was “later realised” he was trying to take a photograph of the property.
  3. A tweet by the editor, Ms Khadija Patel, to promote the article and that week’s edition of the newspaper, which he complains was “false, incorrect and misleading” and did not reasonably reflect the story. He argued the tweet was “part of the eco-system of their journalism”.

 

Specifically he complains that the following clauses of the Press Code have been breached:

  1. The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.
  2. News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts, whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization.
  3. Only what may be reasonably 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 a manner as to indicate this clearly.
  4. News should be obtained legally, honestly and fairly unless public interest dictates otherwise.

3.1The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals. The right to privacy may be overridden by the public interest.

10.1 Headlines and captions to pictures shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report.

10.2 Posters shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the reports in question

  1. The text

1.1 Under the headline, “Eastern Cape bigwigs in ‘loan’ fracas” the introduction to the story says: “A Bentley Bentayga retailing for about R4-million and the renovation of a private home are at the centre of a battle over who gets to run the Eastern Cape.”

1.2 It goes on to report that WhatsApp messages “seem to indicate” that Mr Oscar Mabuyane, ANC chair and premier candidate, “is implicated in receiving undue benefits, an allegation he denies.

1.3 Mr Mabuyane and party treasurer, Babalo Madikizela, “seen as allies of [President Cyril] Ramaphosa, have been accused of benefitting from payments made to businessman Lonwabo Bam by the Mbizana local municipality, but Bam’s plant hire company, Mthombeni Projects, had not done the work for which he was paid.”

1.4 The messages between Mr Bam and Mr Madikizela (currently MEC for public works) show that the latter provided banking details of LSM Distributors in Randburg for the “purchase of a Bentley Bentayga.” He also provided banking details of an “East London draughtsman”, Allan Morran, who had “revamped” Mabuyane’s house.

1.5 The article then explains how Mr Mabuyane and Mr Madikizela came to power in “fiercely contested” provincial conference in 2017, known as “the festival of chairs” because delegates threw chairs at each other. The Johannesburg High Court dismissed a motion to force the ANC’s NEC to disband the provincial executive committee led by Mr Mabuyane.

1.6 It reports that Mr Bam was once a “close friend and business associate” of Mr Madikizela, but the pair appear to have fallen out. Bam “has had many government contracts from Eastern Cape municipalities and departments.”

1.7 Proof of payments provided by Bam (from July and August, 2018) seen in the text messages “suggest that Madikizela, who is from Mbizana, had requested payments from the businessman for his own and Mabuyane’s benefit.” Mr Bam said he had made the payments at Mr Madikizela’s request. He is quoted as saying: “I don’t have much to say but you can ask the municipal manager  [about] the R1.1 million that Mthombeni Projects was paid for, under what tender number and for what work. I want to leave this to law enforcement to investigate.”

1.8 The manager of the Mbizana municipality, Mr Luvuyo Mahlaka, told the paper that Mr Bam was paid for “providing transport for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s memorial service” held in Mbizana in April, 2018. He said there was no tender and the payment was made to his firm, Mthombeni Projects on the basis of a memorandum of understanding between the municipality and the provincial department of sports, recreation, arts and culture.

The newspaper says this contradicts the invoice Bam submitted to the municipality in July, 2018 which was for “four TLBs [tractor loader backhoes], one water cart and two excavators.”

1.9 The newspaper refers to a “faction opposed to Mabuyane” who are “pushing” Bam to depose an affidavit to prevent Mabuyane from becoming premier and to “force the ANC to refer the matter to its integrity commission.”

1.10 Mr Mabuyane and Mr Madikizela both dismissed the charges as “malicious”, saying there was no impropriety in the payments. Mr Madikizela is quoted as saying: “As in any friendship a number of favours exchanged hands between myself and Mr Bam, some personal and some financial. I am aware that Mr Bam is going through a serious financial challenge.” He thought this may be why the allegations had surfaced, saying “he [Mr Bam] used a genuine exchange of communication and favours that I did for him to create a narrative that there was a corrupt relationship between us”. He denied that he had “instructed” Mthombeni Projects to invoice “any municipality for work done or for any other reason”.

1.11 He goes on to explain he owned a plant hiring company that Mr Bam used and would pay for when he was paid by his clients. “At the time of me buying my car I was expecting some payment from Mr Bam for my plant that he has used and other monies he had borrowed from me. I instructed him to pay that amount to LSM Distributors as it was at the time convenient to do so.”

He adds: “However, I see that there is a deliberate link to connect the R500 000 to the R1.1 million he claims to have defrauded the municipality of. He knows quite well that the invoice in question was for a job he did for the municipality after it was surrendered to him by another service provider. For that matter, he did not even have the monies to initiate the work and again I came to his rescue.”

1.12 Mr Madikizela said he had provided Mr Bam with Allan Morran Design’s banking details “because Mabuyane, as his friend, had asked him to pay for a loan for alterations to his home.” The newspaper reports Mr Mabuyane forwarded the banking details of Allan Morran to Mr Madikizela in a text message that said:  “Transfer kula account Ngutyana lamcimbi wendlu, enkosi kakhulu” (translated as “Please transfer that house matter to that account. Thanks a lot.”)

1.13 The newspaper quotes Mr Mabuyane’s spokesperson Mr Sicwetsha saying: “The communication from Comrade Mabuyane to Comrade Madikizela on the matter at issue was about a private loan they had discussed earlier.” He said the agreed upon loan was “for the renovation of his private family home”, which they had to “urgently” move into because of “pressing security matters”. The property was bought with a bond from the bank and required renovations. The loan was a “private matter, and they have agreed on repayment terms”.

Mr Mabuyane was “of the view” that the payment was from Mr Madikizela: “Anything that attempts to distort this fact is rejected as malicious and baseless. This is an attempt at defamation of the character of Mr Mabuyane and falsehoods.”

1.14 The article reports the payments were “set in motion” the day after the text message (July 24, 2018) when “Madikizela called Bam and instructed him to submit a R1.1 million invoice to Mbizana local municipality

He (Mr Madikizela) is alleged to have also told Mr Bam to get in touch with an office manager at the ANC’s Eastern Cape  headquarters “who would give more information regarding the invoice to the municipality”. However Mr Madikizela “dismissed” this. He said Mr Bam had sent the invoice “as proof that he was awaiting payment from Mbizana municipality to settle his debt”.

1.15 Once the invoice had been submitted “a series of payments in August followed”, including the R450 000 for the house renovations and the R500 000 deposit for the Bentley.

  1. The arguments

Mr Sicwetsha for Mr Mabuyane

2.1 Mr Sicwetsha, representing Mr Mabuyane, complained on three main grounds, and drew attention to what he believed was a misleading or false narrative propagated by one of the newspaper’s key sources for the story, Mr Lonwabo Bam.

2.2 The first ground was omission: he argues that in gathering information for the story, the reporter, Mr Thanduxolo Jika, sent a list of questions to Mr Sicwetsha. Among these were questions about the source of funds for the renovations, the fact that funds were “ultimately” secured from the Mbizana municipality ‘for no work done’, a question about whether Mr Mabuyane had declared the R450 000 loan for renovations for his house in the Interests Register of public representatives, and a question about the purchase of a Jeep Cherokee in 2016 by Mthombeni Projects/Lubabalo Bam for the use of Mr Mabuyane. The reporter asked whether this was not a “capture of the ANC… which you have been claiming to stand up against”.

2.3 The newspaper article itself did not refer to any issues surrounding the Jeep Cherokee.

2.4 Mr Sicwetsha initially complained that by “omitting” to report that the information that Mr Bam provided was wrong once the newspaper had realized it, it had given readers “limited information” The car belonged to the ANC and if it had been shown in the article that Mr Bam had incorrectly informed the newspaper on this matter, it would have shown “that their source misled and lied to them”.

However, Mr Sicwetsha withdrew this part of the complaint about the Jeep Cherokee. I will refer to it later in the Analysis section because subsequent articles mention it and put aspects of this article into context. It should be noted that in the other articles, Mr Mabuyane was given the right of reply and the subsequent articles are not the subject of complaint.

2.5 The second complaint, involving a breach of privacy and unethical gathering of news, relates to a freelance photographer trying to take a picture of Mr Mabuyane’s house in East London – the one that was renovated with the loan/payment of R450 000.

Mr Sicwetsha writes: “While attending the questions sent by Mr Jika to our office, I was informed that there was an individual who was wandering next to the property of Mr Mabuyane and that when he was asked what was he looking for as he appeared to be eyeing the property, he lied and said he was visiting a property next door.

Minutes later he was seen taking pictures of Mr Mabuyane’s property without permission. When he was approached to understand why he was doing this, he drove off. I brought this to the attention of Mr Jika who at the time was not aware of this. Upon checking with his colleagues he confirmed that the newspaper assigned this person.

He adds that Mr Jika indicated “with an angry emoji on his response” that the paper would not use the pictures taken by “this person”.

Referring to him as “an intruding person” into the property of another, Mr Sicwetsha said he had “misrepresented himself when asked why he was outside his house, trespassed and invaded his (Mr Mabuyane’s) privacy and that of his family”.

2.6 The third complaint relates to a tweet by the editor of the Mail&Guardian, Ms Khadija Patel.

The tweet, issued on the day before the newspaper appeared, read: “It’s all-out war – for positions, for power. In the Eastern Cape, the Premier elect has to explain payments for a Bentley…” (the tweet went on to list other main stories in the paper).

Below the text was a picture of the front page of that week’s edition.

2.7 Mr Sicwetsha then sent a text message to Ms Patel asking her to correct this tweet because the newspaper “did not ask Mr Mabuyane about the Bentley but only about the Jeep Cherokee.”

He argues it was “misleading” and “distortion of information to the public” as no question about the Bentley had been put to Mr Mabuyane’s office.

Instead of seeing her tweet as wrong and false, Ms Patel saw it as vague and referred me to the thread of the tweet, which did not carry any correction.”

2.8 Mr Sicwetsha argues the tweet “is material…because the editor brought it into the eco-system of her newspaper by posting something about a story contained in her newspaper.”

He adds there was nothing in the story about the Premier-elect being asked to “explain payments of a Bentley”.

He says reactions to her tweet were “problematic” in that “people took it as truthful… Many people who added their comments, anchored on her wrong and false tweet [and] shared the tweet”.

He further argues that in this electronic age her tweet should be “regarded as a poster and headline because it was used to promote the main story carried by her newspaper.

Social networks are used the same way as street posters by newspapers that post their headlines and posters. Readers, too, use these to see what is in the paper; therefore it must be treated the same way a street poster with a headline is treated.”

2.9 He further argues that the Press Code does not specify that posters and headlines refer only to posters “mounted on lamp posts on the streets.” The tweet by Ms Patel was “part of the platforms for the newspaper’s headlines, posters to promote stories in her newspaper.”

He writes: “..the advent of the relationship the traditional news media has with social media network platforms brings the latter into the ecosystem of journalism”; thus what journalists do on social media should form part of what the Ombudsman “has jurisdiction over.

2.10 He says the tweet has caused “reputational damage” to Mr Mabuyane and asks that the editor apologize for this both on her twitter account and in the newspaper.

Mail&Guardian

2.11 Mr Beauregard Tromp, deputy editor of the M&G, answered on behalf of the paper.

I will not go into details of arguments about the non-mention of the Jeep Cherokee because Mr Sicwetsha withdrew this part of the complaint. Suffice it is to say that he argued it was false to see the M&G as “doing the bidding of Mr Bam and merely furthering his objectives”.

Precisely because of the factional battles within the ANC in the Eastern Cape, it was important to verify information and Mr Tromp argued the paper’s editorial decision in not including the Jeep in the story was justified. “There are a great many facts that we would sift through in preparing our story with most of them not ending up in ink.”

2.12 The accusation that a representative of the newspaper had “trespassed” on Mr Mabuyane’s property and “invaded his privacy” are “spurious”. The matter was reported to the local police and the newspaper was contacted by a Colonel Machine but there has been no further action taken to date.

Mr Tromp argued the property in question “was at the heart of the story…with allegations that Mr Mabuyane received questionable funds towards the building of the home in question”,

 

2.13 For this reason, a freelance photographer, on the instruction of the M&G, went to Mr Mabuyane’s home, “which is surrounded by a boundary wall. At the corner of the property, the photographer climbed onto the boot of his vehicle to gain a better vantage point and attempted to take a picture of the home”. He then went to the front driveway entrance and tried to take another picture. “At no point did our photographer trespass on Mr Mabuyane’s property. To be clear – the pictures taken by our photographer were obtained legally.”

2.14 However, the newspaper subsequently became aware that Mr Mabuyane had received death threats and feared for his and his family’s safety. “This helped inform our decision not to use the pictures as part of our reporting on the matter.”

2.15 On the tweet, Mr Tromp agreed that the “initial tweet erroneously referred to Mr Mabuyane having to explain payments for a Bentley”.

2.16 He then explains that, as the story indicates, Mr Babalo Madikizela “is the person who solicits moneys to be paid to himself and Mr Mabuyane. In short, throughout the alleged illicit affair, Madikizela and Mabuyane are intertwined. It is Mr Madikizela who solicits funds for payment towards a R4-million Bentley Bentayga. Almost immediately after the initial tweet, the error was spotted. It would have been remiss of the M&G to simply delete the tweet as it was already in the public domain. The tweet was therefore corrected in a thread that followed from the initial tweet.”

He argues that he believes the M&G “acted correctly in all respects throughout the reporting on this matter and where a mistake was made immediately acted to correct it”.

Further arguments

2.17 I will deal only with the responses here to the matter of the photographer and of the tweet because the complaint about Mr Bam’s alleged “misleading” information about the Jeep Cherokee was withdrawn.

2.18 Mr Sicwetsha alleges that the photographer “lied about his identity” when he was asked (apparently by a security guard) why he was outside Mr Mabuyane’s house.

He argues that the Press Code mandates that “journalists must obtain news legally and fairly unless public interest or their safety dictates otherwise”. These two exclusions do not apply in this case “because the safety of the photographer was not at risk and issues of public interest were not problematic”. The journalist had sent questions and there was “no indication that we were not going to respond to them.” Moreover, he did not mention that the paper was sending a photographer to the house.”

The photographer did not identify himself as a journalist and invaded the privacy of Mr Mabuyane’s family “when he took the picture of the house by sneaking over the fence wall of his house without permission.” When he was approached, he had “sped off”.  The fact that the journalist writing the story was not aware of the photographer was “telling”.

2.19 On the tweet, Mr Sicwetsha argues that the newspaper had “conceded to the error” of the editor’s tweet but it was misleading to claim it had apologized. “The claimed apology is false and it is a lie by the newspaper because the editor did not apologise on that thread at all.”

In a message to Mr Sicwetsha, who contacted her about the tweet, Ms Patel said she’d realized the “tweet was ambiguous. I have added a thread explaining the relevance of the Bentley..”

But her comments on the thread “did not offer any apology or correction..”.

The tweet in this case “must be read as a headline because she brought the tweet into the ecosystem of the newspaper”.

In spite of being “engaged several times about the incorrect, false and wrong nature of her tweet she refused to remove (it) and apologise.”

2.20 He also says the newspaper itself did not spot the error, but his office had to bring it to her attention.

She did not correct it and instead, the newspaper defends her ethical failure to remove the wrong tweet just because it was already on the public domain. This is wrong. The newspaper and its editor failed to act ethically and instead of removing an incorrect and false tweet, which has information adversely implicating Mabuyane on something he is not involved in, they decided to allow their unethical tweet to trend.”

2.21 He describes the tweet as “reckless decision-making that cares only for trending and not the people the newspaper writes about”, unethical, and as “fake news because it is something that did not happen at all and they did not bring this to the attention of Mr Mabuyane when they sent questions to him”.

  1. Analysis

3.1 This story is one that is squarely in the public interest. Although it may be true, that factional rivalries within the ANC underpin the conflict, the story’s central focus is the allegation that money was paid from a small municipality to a businessman, who then apparently made payments out of that money for the benefit of powerful individuals within the provincial ANC.

3.2 The question is to what extent these appearances are true (there may have been a loan arrangement) and whether the information was gathered and conveyed ethically.

 

3.3 For the record, the matter of the Jeep Cherokee, although dropped by the complainant in this complaint, was revisited by the M&G in September 2019. It reported that the Jeep in question had been bought for the ANC by the same Mr Bam and used by Mr Mabuyane when he was chairperson of the ANC in the province. The newspaper then alleged that Mr Mabuyane “transferred ownership” of the vehicle to himself and subsequently traded it in.

Mr Mabuyane was allowed a right of reply and wrote, under the headline, ‘The M&G let Bam play them like a violin’, that the reporter had falsely reported that he (Mr Mabuyane) would not comment. But in fact, because the vehicle belonged to the ANC, it was not for him to comment.

Also, he could not “transfer ownership” to himself as he did not own it. But as it had almost run out of its motor plan, he was given “first right” because he was a “full-time functionary” of the party at the time.

Because the source of the incorrect information was Mr Bam, he said in his reply that it was “worrying” that the newspaper “takes what is given to it by Bam as gospel truth without independently scrutinizing the information in order to give readers correct information to empower them to make informed decisions”.

3.4 I mention this because, even though in this complaint the issue of the Jeep was withdrawn, it highlights the dangers of not critically scrutinizing the information of sources who may be involved in factional politics. But because Mr Bam claimed he had bought the Jeep, it showed evidence of a possible history of transactional favours between him and provincial politicians.

3.5 A crucial point in the case of this article, the subject of the complaint, is that Mr Bam has deposed to an affidavit in which he says he was asked by Mr Madikizela, then the treasurer of the ANC in the province, to submit an invoice to the Mbizana municipality for the sum of R1.1 million.

3.6 Mr Bam’s company, Mthombeni Projects, is a construction firm.[1]

The M&G reports him as saying that he made the payments (for Mr Mabuyane’s house and for the deposit for a Bentley) at Mr Madikizela’s request.

In his affidavit, he says the invoice was “drafted” by the provincial ANC office manager, Mr Mongezi Dyala. “Everything in that invoice was written by him and I only wrote the particulars of my company.”

He also says: “The payment was made to me but there is nothing I have done for the municipality.”

He re-stated this position in a conversation with me.

I am not in a position to judge whether this is true or not, nor is it my task. But it shows a strong basis for this story being of critical public interest.

3.7 This leads me to the second complaint from Mr Sicwetsha about whether the freelance photographer contracted to take pictures of Mr Mabuyane’s house had behaved ethically or not.

 

3.8 The Press Code, sections 1.4 states that news should be obtained “legally, honestly and fairly, unless public interest dictates otherwise” 1.6 stipulates that “media representatives shall identify themselves as such, unless public interest or their safety dictates otherwise”; and 3.1 stipulates that the “media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals. The right to privacy may be overridden by public interest.”

3.9 As I have argued above, the story was well within the public interest. A source has claimed under oath that he had fraudulently invoiced a small rural municipality for no work done and had paid part of that money directly into the account of Mr Allan Morran who was renovating Mr Mabuyane’s house.

I have also confirmed with Mr Morran that he received a payment of R450 000 into his bank account on August 1, 2018, as stated by Mr Bam in his affidavit.

It may well be true that this payment was part of a complicated loan arrangement between Mr Madikizela and Mr Mabuyane that somehow involved Mr Bam.

But on the face of it, the claim was both newsworthy, in the public interest and, moreover, made under oath.

3.10 There are three aspects to the complaint about the photographer: one was whether the M&G was justified in trying to get a picture of the house in question; the other is whether the photographer behaved legally or not. The third is whether Mr Mabuyane’s right to privacy was invaded.

3.11 Mr Sicwetsha accuses the photographer  of trying “to sneak over the fence wall”.

The newspaper has strongly denied this, and it seems unlikely that the home of the then ANC provincial chair, soon to become the Premier, would be so unguarded that a man with a camera could “sneak over the fence wall”. It seems much more likely that the version of the M&G is correct – that he stood on the boot of his car outside the property and tried to take pictures over the wall, and also from the driveway entrance.

When he was confronted, the photographer backed off.

3.12 A senior office in the police force (a colonel, according to Mr Tromp) contacted the newspaper about the incident but nothing has come of it. If he had indeed been trespassing on the property, it is odd that Mr Mabuyane did not bring charges against him.

In any event, the newspaper did not use the pictures taken because as Mr Tromp put it: “We took an editorial decision before they contacted us, on an ethical level, not to use any pix of the house, because it’s not the way we like to go about our business. But to say he was “sneaking over a fence/wall” is a lie.

I have to concur that it is unlikely as the photographer was neither arrested at the time, nor was he charged.

3.13 As soon as the M&G became aware that Mr Mabuyane had received threats to his safety, it decided not to use the pictures, so showing respect for his privacy. Yet at the time it engaged the photographer, it was not aware of this, and the renovations to Mr Mabuyane’s house were a matter of public interest, given the information from Mr Bam.

3.14 On the tweet:  Mr Sicwetsha advances an interesting and important argument. In this day of electronic media, where so much news is consumed on social media platforms such as Twitter, newspapers increasingly use the medium to promote or highlight key stories in upcoming editions.

In this sense, tweets from editors or from newspapers have become akin to old-fashioned newspaper posters that are put up on lamp posts.

The intention is the same – to reach a broader audience, to advertise key stories, to stimulate interest, and to persuade members of the public to buy the newspaper.

3.15 The Press Code does not currently have a social media policy, although it is developing guidance notes for publishers, editors and journalists. However, the fundamental principles of the Code apply to all online copy of those who subscribe to the Code.

3.16 Ms Patel, the editor of the M&G, posts regularly on Twitter highlighting the main stories in the forthcoming edition of the newspaper.

3.17 In this case her tweet said: “It’s all-out war- for position, for power. In the Eastern Cape, the Premier Elect has to explain payments for a Bentley, meanwhile gender is the latest proxy in the war between factions at Luthuli House - what is at stake - positions. So we tell you who’s in and who’s out.”

This was followed by a picture of the front page of the Mail&Guardian.

3.18 Soon after he saw it, Mr Sicwetsha sent Ms Patel a message on WhatsApp saying: “We had received messages from Jika about the story which I think is related to what you posted on Twitter. In what he asked us there was nothing about Bentley and yet in your post…you link a Bentley to him [Mabuyane]. How is this so?”

3.19 Ms Patel replied: “I realize my tweet was ambiguous. I have added a thread explaining the relevance of the Bentley…”

Two tweets down in the thread, Ms Patel posted: “…For me, the read of the week is the ANC factional battle in the Eastern Cape. Allegations of impropriety are swirling around the ‘thuma mina brigade’ - there’s the Bentley payment for a senior comrade - among other things- which leaves the Premier elect in a pickle…”

3.20 Although this partly explained the tweet, it did not definitively make clear that the “Bentley” did not relate to the Premier-elect – in fact this tweet reinforced the perception, saying it left him “in a pickle”.

3.21 There were a number of reactions to the tweet, most of them indicating disapproval.

3.22 It is true, as Mr Sicwetsha points out, that the “thread” did not carry any correction for the initial misleading tweet. The issue of the “Bentley” was never put to Mr Mabuyane’s office. In the article, the Bentley matter concerned Mr Madikizela.

 

3.23 It is also true that Twitter, in this age, has assumed the role of newspaper posters, even if social media posts in some cases are supplements to these.

Thus there is no logical reason why tweets made in the name of the editor, or officially in the name of the newspaper should not also be subject to the Press Code, in this case section 10.2: “Posters shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report in question.”

3.24 The erroneousness – not ambiguity – of the tweet is aggravated by the fact that the allegation about the Bentley was never put to Mr Mabuyane’s office.

Ms Patel was engaged timeously about this matter and she could have deleted the tweet and posted a fresh one. The original one may still have been noticed by the public, but not to correct it when the error was pointed out showed a disregard for accuracy and undermined an important story.

Finding

The Mail&Guardian, through its incorrect tweet, and its refusal to correct it, is in transgression of section 10.2 of the Code.

This is a Tier 2 offence.

The newspaper should apologise for the incorrect tweet on Twitter and this apology should be published on the same page as the original print story in the newspaper, with a link to its online story, and be approved by the Ombudsman.

The Press Council logo and a link to this finding should also be published.

The rest of the complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven (7) 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.

 

Pippa Green

Press Ombudsman

February 2, 2020

 



[1] Affidavit by Mr Lonwabo Bam, made at Butterworth Police Station, 27/4/2019