Ms Khutso Ramafalo and Mr Nqaba Timothy Makhanya vs City Press


Tue, Oct 27, 2020

Finding: Complaint number 7905

Date of article: 12 May, 2020

Headline: Soweto residents go hungry: ‘We are living from hand to mouth’; Strap: “The multi-tiered web of food distribution channels gives leeway to opportunists looking to make a quick buck or fend only for themselves and their network.”

Author: Ntombizodwa Makhoba

Page:  6

Online:  Yes

Particulars

This finding is based on written submissions by Ms Khutso Ramafalo and Mr Nqaba Timothy Makhanya, a written response from City Press executive editor, Mr Dumisane Lubisi, email correspondence between Ms Ramafalo and the reporter provided by the complainant, and a recording of two interviews provided by the newspaper.

Text Box: Mr Dumisane LubisiWhile I was adjudicating this complaint, Mr L Ms Khutso Ramafalo and Mr Nqaba Timothy Makhanya vs City Pressubisi unexpectedly passed away at the age of 44, on 9 October 2020. We at the Press Council are deeply saddened by his loss. He was always professional and collegial in his interactions with us, and it was a pleasure to work with him. Our deep condolences go out to his family and to his colleagues at City Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complaint

Ms Khutso Ramafalo, a ward committee member in Soweto, joined by Mr Nqaba Makhanya, a Soweto resident, complain that an article in the City Press about the distribution of food parcels transgressed various clauses of the Press Code.

Ms Ramafalo says Mr Makhanya requested her to lodge a complaint on his behalf.

Specifically, Ms Ramafalo complains that the article was not truthful, accurate or fair; that she was not given an adequate opportunity to respond; that it impinged on her dignity and reputation because it implied she was involved in corruption in the distribution of food parcels; that the reporter allowed personal or political considerations to influence her reporting; that the sub-title (or strap) was misleading; that she did not corroborate information from anonymous sources, and that her name was misspelt.

Mr Makhanya complains that the reporter misquoted him, got his age and family situation wrong, and that his dignity was impugned by being identified as a beneficiary of food parcels.

Specifically, the clauses they argue were transgressed are:

The media shall:

  1. take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly;

1.2 present news 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;

1.3 present only what may reasonably be true as fact; opinions, allegations, rumours or suppositions shall be presented clearly as such;

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;

The media shall:

2.1 not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence reporting, and avoid conflicts of interest as well as practices that could lead readers to doubt the media’s independence and professionalism;

3.3 exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation, which may be overridden only if it is in the public interest

10.1 Headlines, captions to pictures and posters shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report or picture in question;

11.2 avoid the use of anonymous sources unless there is no other way to deal with a story, and shall take care to corroborate such information;

Both Ms Ramafalo and Mr Makhanya ask for a retraction and apology..

  1. Text

1.1 The story ran under the headline: “Soweto residents go hungry: ‘We are living from hand to mouth’”. A strap/subhead below reads: “A multi-tiered web of food distribution channels gives leeway to opportunists looking to make a quick buck or to fend only for themselves and their network.”

1.2 The intro reads: “Some Soweto residents say they have lost hope that they will receive food parcels after being on the social development waiting list for more than a month.”

1.3 The second paragraph says: “Last week a fuming SA National Civics Association  (Sanco) member from Tladi in Soweto who asked not to be identified, alleged that he witnessed a bakkie delivering food parcels to ANC Women’s League and ward committee member Khutso Ramafolo’s home on April 25 and 26.”

He said it was “strange” the food parcels were delivered at night, two days in a row. He said when he confronted her, she said the parcels belonged to the ANC Women’s League. He says he was “shocked” by this response.

1.4 City Press quotes Ms Ramafalo as saying the food parcels were from a private donor: “I did not get them from government, and I did give them to deserving beneficiaries.”

1.5 It quotes another Sanco member explaining that this particular ward was among many that had been waiting “longer than a month” for food parcels. He said he had written down community members’ names and identity numbers and submitted them to the social development department on their behalf but was now afraid as some thought he had received the parcels himself.

1.6 It then quotes Nqaba Makhanya, a Soweto resident, aged 21, saying he had recently lost his mother and was one of those waiting for food parcels.

The story says he shares a four-room house with “his cousins and…their situation is dire as none of them is employed.Times are really tough. We are living from hand to mouth and some nights we go to bed with empty stomachs,’ said an emotional Makhanya”.

1.7 It  mentions ward councilor Mpho Sesedinyane, who is blamed by a resident as being “invisible”. However, he denies this claim, saying “councilors were instructed to stay away from food parcels.”

He says ward committee members have submitted “at least 200 names to social development” and some would be receiving food parcels “soon”.

It quotes Boitumelo Koetle, described as “another frustrated Soweto resident” from Naledi Extension, saying he had submitted 400 names but had still not heard from the department.

1.8 Instead of waiting for them, residents had started a local community initiative and were approaching private donors for food parcels to assist “those in need in ward 20”. They had so far distributed food parcels to 55 families.

  1. The Arguments

2.1 On the right to reply:

Ms Ramafalo says the reporter, Ms Makhoba, had been in her area twice – on Monday 4 May and again on the Wednesday (6 May) when she interviewed the second complainant, Nqaba Makhanya.

Ms Makhoba told her in a telephone conversation on 7 May that she had “passed by” her residence.

Ms Ramafalo asked for a “face-to face interview” so she could be “afforded an opportunity to state my case…as well as provide any further evidence in corroboration”. This was because she was concerned about her “line of questioning or choice of words.” She had earlier been interviewed by phone and had answered questions via WhatsApp.

2.2 She says Ms Makobha’s response was that she did not live in Soweto and “that we are on lockdown…and that she is chasing other important stories.”

She says that as Ms Makhoba had indicated the story was “sensitive…I was thus expecting of her to work [to do] justice to the gathering and reporting of the said story.”

As it emerged, she was in the area “when it suited her” but not to gather more evidence. She was disappointed that there seemed to be “no further investigations done”.

2.3 She also complains that her name was misspelled throughout the piece as “Ramafolo” rather than “Ramafalo” in spite of her confirming the spelling on WhatsApp messages.

On inaccuracy

2.4 She references the other complainant, Mr Makhanya, saying Ms Makhoba was, on 4 May “in the company of one Mr Thabang Rakgetsi, whom I am informed is a Sanco member and leader in the demarcated block that they both live in...” He had called out to him and told Ms Makhoba about Mr Makhanya’s “living arrangements and conditions” as he had lost his mother a few weeks before.

Mr Rakgetsi then apparently told Mr Makhanya that he had been to his house during the week of his bereavement (about four weeks prior to this) to take down his details for government food parcels. He also told him that Ms Makhoba was there to interview community members about food parcels.

2.5 Ms Makhoba had interviewed him.

However, he complains that the information in the article is incorrect: he is not 21 years old, but 30, and he does not live with cousins but with nieces and nephews.

“He further admitted that he was asked if his family received any food parcels and he said no as he did not see it fit to go around being interviewed about him being a beneficiary of food parcels.”

2.6 Ms Ramafalo says that his family were in fact beneficiaries of food parcels organised by her from private donors.

2.7 He also (according to Ms Ramafalo) did not say he was unemployed, as the article reports, “but does some odd jobs to make ends meet.”

On Mr Makhanya’s dignity being impugned

2.8 He says Mr Rakgetsi had come to his house with Ms Makhoba on the 6 May “with bags that contained what seemed like cameras and other journalists’ tools of the trade.”

He told them he did not want pictures taken: “He says he became upset and responded by saying he does not find it proper or dignified for him to be interviewed, pictures taken” and a story published as a beneficiary of food parcels.

2.9 Ms Ramafalo argues City Press transgressed the Preamble of the Press Code that holds journalists to “the highest standards of ..ethics..”. She expresses doubts that she “indeed interviewed over 30 families” as she had told her in an email.

2.10 She argues that Mr Makhanya “felt aggrieved” both by the Sanco member Mr Rakgetsi and the reporter, as well as the contents of the story “which he largely holds to be untrue” as the information “in the main” was provided not by himself but by Mr Rakgetsi.

On allowing non-professional considerations to influence reporting

2.11 Ms Ramafalo also argues that City Press transgressed section 2.1 of the Press Code that invokes journalists “not to allow personal, political, or non-professional considerations to influence the reporting of the news.”

2.12 The basis for this is “the close relationship that seems to be presenting itself between Mr Thabang Rakgetsi…and Ms Ntombizodwa Makhoba.” This concern is underlined by the fact that Mr Makhanya was “identified by Thabang Rakgetsi as a candidate to be interviewed for food parcels.

“The biggest concern .. is that the very same Mr Thabang Rakgetsi admitted to having not had an opportunity to include Mr Nqaba Timothy Makhanya in the list of identified beneficiaries. Question then becomes, why interview such a person about food parcels and him being a beneficiary when he himself never included him in a list of beneficiaries.”

2.13 On the strap or sub-head that says “The multitiered web of food distribution channels gives leeway to opportunists looking to make a quick buck or to fend only for themselves and their network”, she argues that it creates the impression “that some form of corruption was committed by myself and that the responses provided…via e-mail were futile.”

She says there is no credible evidence to support the sub-head.

2.14 On the use of anonymous sources

She says she finds it “rather unfair” that the reporter ‘was not willing to take time to meet with myself for a face-to-face interview” so that she could have an opportunity to “provide precise responses to her questions.” Ms Makhoba “showed no willingness to make justice of the story by gathering information that would provide for a balanced reporting of facts.” There was no attempt to corroborate anonymous sources.

2.15 Ms Ramafalo asks for an apology and retraction of the story on both her and Mr Makhanya’s behalf.

Mr Dumisane Lubisi for City Press

2.16 Mr Lubisi answered the complaints of both parties.

In the case of the misspelling of Ms Ramafalo’s name, he says this was an “honest mistake” and City Press regrets the error. Corrections have already been made in all the newspaper’s online platforms.

2.17 On the sub-head and the phrase “leeway for opportunists”, he argues that “the headline and subhead truly captured the essence of the story…which was factually correct.” He denies it was “false, defamatory or malicious.”

2.18 On the accuracy of the story

He says Ms Makhoba “conducted several interviews with people in the community who were destitute and were waiting for food parcels to be delivered to them. These residents were the ones alleging that food parcels were only delivered to people connected to community leaders. Ms Ramafalo is a community leader and is campaigning to be a ward councillor for Ward 21. In the story, a community member who asked for anonymity alleges that a bakkie delivered food parcels to Ms Ramafalo’s house on two occasions in April (25 and 26). The pictures of the food parcels being dropped at Ms Ramafalo’s house were captured by the community member. Ms Ramafalo was confronted about the food parcels being delivered to her home and told the community member that the food parcels belonged to the ANC Women League.”

2.19 On adequate right of reply

City Press spoke to Ms Ramafalo who confirmed she had received food parcels but said these were from a private donor. She said she had distributed them “to deserving beneficiaries”. This was reflected in the report.

2.20 On the complaint that she was denied the opportunity of a face-to-face interview with the reporter and thus an opportunity to provide “precise responses” to her questions, Mr Lubisi says the allegations are “baseless.”

“On May 5, Makhoba had received a phone call from a community member at Ward 21, who claims they were hungry and the community leaders, who are responsible for giving food parcels, were distributing such only to their associates. On May 6, Makhoba went to Soweto and met up with a community member, who introduced her to other community members who were crying for help, hoping the media’s intervention will speed the process of receiving food parcels. Makhoba spent the day in Ward 21 interviewing several families, who were waiting for food parcels and all confirmed they have been waiting for almost a month with nothing coming their way.”

He says City Press had covered the story of food parcels not reaching intended beneficiaries around the country extensively during the lockdown. [1]

In fact, when Ms Makhoba had been in the area on the Monday, she had dropped by Ms Ramafalo’s house but she was not at home at the time. This was after community members had apparently seen food parcels being dropped off at her house two evenings in a row.

On May 7, she had called her and put to her the allegations from the community. She gave her comment over the phone and asked that further questions be put on e-mail, which was done. She then demanded a “face-to-face” interview.

As the country was still on national lockdown, reporters had been “encouraged to go out on stories only when absolutely necessary.” As Ms Ramafalo had already given her comment to the reporter, and as she had her telephone number, they determined that a “face-to-face” interview was not a viable solution under the circumstances.

“But Ms Ramafalo insisted on a face-to-face interview after she had “consulted” and that Makhoba must come to meet her and Comrade Vuyiswa – who did not form part of the story.  Makhoba indicated that Comrade Vuyiswa was not a subject of the story and there was no need to meet her. Ms Ramafalo’s response on e-mail was what she had already communicated to Makhoba during the telephonic interview the previous day.”

He says all necessary steps were taken to get her comment, which was reflected in the paper. If she had felt there was a need for additional information, she could have shared it via phone or e-mail, “especially when movement had been restricted by government in an attempt to flatten the curve on the virus spreading.”

2.21 On being fair and accurate

City Press maintains that the article was fair, accurate and balanced. It sought to tell the story of what people, especially the vulnerable, were going through to access food parcels which is aimed to alleviate their state of destitute. And the voices of the different community members in the story tell of such desperation, while Ms Ramafalo had food parcels delivered to her residency in the middle of the night.”

2.22 On the complaint of Mr Nqaba Timothy Makhanya:

On his statement that he did not “see fit to go around being interviewed as the beneficiary of food parcels”, Mr Lubisi replies that Ms Makhoba had introduced herself as a journalist from City Press. He was also “made aware that his pictures would be required since the photographer was not available on the day the interview was done. However, on May 8 “the day when the photographer, Miss Rosetta Msimango, was supposed to take pictures of him, he refused. Msimango called Makhoba informing her that Mr Makhanya was refusing to have his pictures taken, and Makhoba informed Msimango to respect Mr Makhanya’s wishes and leave him alone.”

2.23 Mr Lubisi said a recording was made of the interview which would be made available to the Ombud. He had said in the interview “that they have been waiting for groceries for almost a month and times were really tough for him and family.”

2.24 “Ms Msimango, the photographer, was the one who went to Mr Makhanya on another day to take his pictures. This was after the interview had been done with Makhoba.

“It is interesting that Mr Makhanya is now telling a different version in his complaint lodged with the Ombud. As for his age, it is in the recording when he introduced himself as Nqaba Makhanya, who is 21. He also shared that he was staying with his nieces and nephews.”

2.25 In any event, if these details were incorrect, this can “easily be fixed” in the paper’s online platforms.

But it is a “stretch too far” to claim that Ms Makhoba introduced herself under false pretences and that he never consented to an interview. City Press did not have any reason to lie about who they were or what information they were seeking”. He could have refused to be interviewed if he did not want to speak to the paper.

2.26 Mr Lubisi asks that both complaints be dismissed.

Further arguments

2.27 In response to City Press’ argument, Ms Ramafalo says the misspelling of her name, despite it being indicated in WhatsApp messages “was raised to show the regard with which Ms Makhoba holds her professionalism.”

2.28 On the sub-head: she maintains it is misleading

2.29 On the lack of a face-to-face interview, she says it is untrue that the interview was “to be with myself and Vuyiswa..

“I hold that nothing was stopping Ms Makhoba from responding to my request by indicating that we can communicate further by phone or e-mail but she shot me down by saying ‘It’s either you answer the e-mail as promised or I’ll use the comment you first gave me on the phone.’”

2.30 She also  raises the position of Mr Makhanya again saying that on the attempt at the second interview with him “on his own assertion [he] indicated that he was never expecting any food parcels as his name was never added to any lists of potential beneficiaries.” She queries the justification for such an interview.

2.31 On the allegations (contained in the sub-head) of food parcels being distributed to “people connected to community leaders”, she says there was a contradiction as the e-mail correspondence and phone conversation with Ms Makhoba indicated that the allegations were that community members never received food parcels; however later the allegation – and the one contained in the sub-head -  was that they were distributed to those “connected” to community leaders.

2.32 However, “had Ms Makhoba made her own genuine and unclouded investigations and ensured corroboration… she would have found out that out of the 25 beneficiaries… I personally know less than five..” They were identified through “door-to-door activity” and referrals. “A case in point is the quoted Mr Makhanya, who Ms Makhoba can attest, due to her previous interactions with him, is undoubtedly a deserving beneficiary..”

2.33 She says her campaign to be a ward councillor is irrelevant. “If this was the case what would 25 food parcels achieve for an alleged campaign in a community consisted of +2000 households?”

2.34 She also raises the “alleged close relationship” that Ms Makhoba seem to have had “with a person or perhaps some people, which suggests a political consideration.” This could have influenced her reporting because most community members “do not ordinarily care about politics.” It is “simply clean, transparent and consultative governance” at the core of which is service delivery that is important to most community members. Six wards in fact benefited from the food parcels to the tune of 25 per ward. She says this weakens the assertion that she was campaigning.

2.35 The story makes it sound as though she were responsible for food parcels not reaching intended beneficiaries. There was also a “pre-conceived opinion or belief of guilt” before the information or evidence was tested.

2.36 It is not true that a picture was taken of food parcels being delivered at her house on two occasions, as the story claims. There was only one photo forwarded to Ms Makhoba “as some form of evidence.”

She says the facts are that food parcels were delivered to her house on 25 April: these were allocated to two branches out of the six in Ward 21. She says she distributed the food parcels throughout the day on Sunday, 26 April but that one branch collected their allocation on the evening of Sunday, 26 April. She believes the photograph sent to Ms Makhoba was of this incident and was taken by a person who “turned out to be a political detractor” and who tried to use the picture to smear her name.

2.37 It is also untrue that there was a confrontation with community members and at no point did she say they were for the ANC Women’s League.

2.38 Ms Makhoba failed to corroborate the information she gathered and which she forwarded to her as questions “which states only open allegations without proof of further investigations..”

This was because she seemed “to be influenced by either personal, political and non-professional considerations.” Had Ms Makhoba met her, it would have allowed her “to make an informed decision”, yet she “rushed to publish the story without regard for the adverse impact” it would have.

2.39 Lastly she says food parcels delivered at night “is not a sign of wrong-doing or corruption unless there is further corroborating evidence…Does that mean that the food parcels delivered during the day would not have an element of committing corruption..”

  1. Analysis

3.1 For the sake of convenience I will deal with Ms Ramafalo’s complaint and Mr Makhanya separately although they are linked.

3.2 On Ms Ramafalo’s complaint on the strap or sub-head: “The multi-tiered web of food distribution channels give leeway to opportunists looking to make a quick buck or to fend only for themselves and their network”

The story is a wide-ranging one about the plight of Soweto residents surviving harsh lockdown conditions at the beginning of the pandemic in South Africa. We know that many people were forced to stop working, particularly in the informal sector. As a result there was widespread hunger in the country.

Social relief – in the form of food parcels among other things – became a legitimate focus of newspapers.

There was also concern that food parcels were not reaching those who needed them most.

3.3 In this story, Ms Ramafalo is first introduced to the reader in the second paragraph beneath the strap. She is one of two councillors mentioned in connection with complaints by residents that they were not getting food parcels.

Residents are said to have seen food parcels “on two consecutive nights” delivered to her home, described by the reporter’s source from Sanco as “strange”. He also tells the reporter Ms Ramafalo had told him that they belonged to the ANC women’s League.

3.4 The coupling of Ms Ramafalo’s name so high up in the article, in conjunction with a sub-head that indicates wrongdoing (by “opportunists”) would give any reader the impression that this refers to her.

However, no evidence of this is provided in the story.

3.5 Her explanation is that the food parcels were delivered only on one evening – the photograph allegedly taken by the Sanco member on the following evening was when a particular group who had missed out on the distribution came to fetch their allocation.

She is also correct that food parcels being delivered at night is not in and of itself a sign of corruption. In fact she says they were delivered at around 8 in the evening.

3.6 Apart from mentioning her and one other councillor, the story does not bear out the subhead. The headline is a more accurate reflection: “Soweto residents go hungry..” While there may be suspicion of a network that distributes food parcels to “connections”, there is little substantiation for this in the actual article.

3.7 On the misspelling of her name: Mr Lubisi admits this was an error and says the mistake has been corrected in all online copies of the article.

3.8 On the allegation, made by the anonymous Sanco member that she had told him that the parcels belong to the ANC Women’s League, this question was put to her in e-mail correspondence and a WhatsApp text by Ms Makhoba and she did not respond to it. Thus it was reasonable for the reporter to reflect this in the quote she used in her story, even if it was hearsay.

3.9 On the charge that the reporter was compromised by “non-professional” considerations in her relationship with the Sanco members, one of whom was apparently Thabang Rakgetsi as identified by Ms Ramafalo, the fact that he may have been accompanying her is not in and of itself any sign of a compromised relationship. It is common for reporters going into a community to find local community leaders to introduce them to residents.

Ms Ramafalo may not regard  Mr Makgati as a disinterested purveyor of information, but there is no indication that Ms Makhoba herself is close to him or Sanco other than as a source.

3.10 On her complaint that she did not get a fair opportunity to respond: Ms Ramafalo contradicts herself on whether she requested a “face-to-face interview” In her original complaint, she says: “I then went on to request that she forward her questions by e-mail my response to which was a request for a face-to-face interview for myself to be afforded an opportunity to state my case and give precise responses..”

However in her response to City Press’ response, Ms Ramafalo says: “It is untrue that I insisted on a face-to-face interview but that it was a consideration…”

3.11 In fact in WhatsApp texts between Ms Makhoba and herself on the morning of 8 May, Ms Ramafalo asks for a “face-to-face” interview at 13:00 on that day. Ms Makhoba responds she is on deadline and has “other important stories to chase”. She reminds her she has already given comment over the phone. “I can’t be driving around for comment you have already provided.”

3.12 In his response, Mr Lubisi said it was unreasonable to have expected Ms Makhoba to go back to Soweto to do an interview in the middle of a national lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic.

She had also been to the house on May 6, when she went to interview community members about the distribution of food parcels.

3.13 This is reasonable given the circumstances. The question is whether Ms Ramafalo’s comment was fairly reflected in the article.

In an e-mail exchange between the reporter and Ms Ramafalo, the reporter asked:  “More than 30 disadvantaged homes in Ward 21 have been waiting for their parcels for over a month. We have conducted some interviews with needy families at Ward 21 and they have  confirmed to City Press that they haven't received food parcels to this day. Please share some light to where the food parcels were distributed?”

Ms Ramafalo responded:

“I am wondering what the odds are of yourself having interviewed the needy families from the ward that may have happened to be amongst 25 families who benefited. The ward is made up of about an estimated 8 blocks with an estimated 64 streets and estimated 2 000+ households not forgetting that we also have an informal settlement referred to as Tladi Camp. The 25 food parcels were distributed to an average of 3 households per block because the processes required the fairness of benefiting the whole ward in an equal fair share.”

In the article she was quoted thus “I did not get them from government, and I did give them to deserving beneficiaries.” It was also noted that she said the parcels were from a private donor.

I assume this was from their telephone conversation.

 

3.14 However, the detail she provided – that they had gone to 25 families; that the ward comprised an estimated 2 000 households; that the parcels were distributed to an average of three households per block – was not properly reflected.

The significance of these numbers is that it speaks to her point that 25 parcels can hardly buy influence over a neighbourhood comprising 2 000 households.

So I must conclude that she was not given a fair opportunity to reply to the insinuations that there was something untoward about food parcels being delivered to her house.

3.15 I am not in a position to determine whether they were delivered on two nights – as Sanco says – or one, as she does, but in any event it is not relevant here.

3.16 Insofar as her complaint that the reporting was not truthful or accurate: apart from the issues pointed out above: the spelling of her name, the subhead, and a fair reflection of her comments, the story reflected the anxiety of Soweto residents who had been adversely affected by the lockdown and were desperate for relief. It quotes several people in Soweto, as well as a spokesperson for the Gauteng Social Development department, admitting that there was a backlog of 30 000.

Nqaba Timothy Makhanya

3.17 Mr Makhanya’s complaint was incorporated with Ms Ramafalo’s complaint, but he did not respond to City Press’ response.

3.18 I listened to the recording of the interview (as well as another that seemed to be with the Sanco representative). The interview was mainly in isiZulu with a little English.

3.19 Ms Makhoba introduced herself as a journalist with City Press (the Sanco representative she was with suggested she speak to him as his mother had passed away recently).

3.20 In the interview, Mr Makhanya told her he was 21 years old and that he was not working. He told her that he was living with nieces and nephews (abantwana bakasisi wami); he did not say he was living with his cousins as reported in the article.

3.21His complaint that his dignity was undermined as he did not want to be seen as a beneficiary of food parcels cannot be substantiated.

Ms Ramafalo also contradicts herself on this point: in her original complaint she says he was a recipient of a food parcel that she’d distributed. In her response to City Press’ response she says that in the “second interview”, he said he was never expecting any food parcels as his name was never added to the list of beneficiaries.

3.22 But there did not seem to be a “second interview”. Mr Lubisi says Ms Makhoba interviewed him on her first visit to Soweto; the second time a photographer went alone. He did not want his picture taken. The photographer called Ms Makhoba to explain this and she advised her not to pressure him.

It is unlikely, in my experience, that a reporter would go back to one of her interviewees a second time for a wide-ranging story of this nature, but likely that she would ask a photographer to go.

3.23 Apart from the error of saying he was living with his cousins, rather than his nieces and nephews, the complaint by Mr Makhanya has no merit.

That said, I acknowledge that Mr Makhanya was in a difficult and heart-rending predicament: living in a poor household, having just lost his mother, and facing a hard lockdown. But the reporter was simply doing her job interviewing him.

Finding

In terms of the complaint by Ms Ramafalo, I find that City Press transgressed clauses 1.8 and 10.1 of the Press Code.

Ms Ramafalo, although she was approached for comment, did not have her reply fairly reflected in the article especially as she was linked to the subhead implying she was one of the “opportunists looking to make a quick buck or to fend only for themselves and their network”.

In terms of clause 10.1, the article does not reasonably reflect the essence of the subhead which implies corruption in the distribution of food parcels: there may well have been, but in this article it is insinuated with regards to Ms Ramafalo rather than substantiated. The story fairly reflects the main headline which is about the desperate position Soweto residents found themselves in as they waited for food parcels.

These are Tier 2 offences.

The misspelled name was acknowledged by City Press and corrected. This is a Tier 1 offence with no sanction.

As regards Mr Makhanya’s complaint, City Press erroneously reported that he was living with his cousins rather than his sister’s children. This is a minor error and a Tier 1 offence for which there is no sanction.

City Press is ordered to apologise to Ms Ramafalo for linking her to a subhead which implied that she was one of the “opportunists looking to make a quick buck or to fend only for themselves and their network” without proper substantiation. It must also apologise for not adequately reflecting her response in the article that there were only 25 food parcels and she distributed them to various blocks in a neighbourhood of about 2 000 households.

The rest of the complaint is dismissed.

Sanction

City Press should apologise to Ms Ramafalo for not adequately reflecting her response to accusations that she received food parcels which were distributed to her “connections”.

It should also apologise for a sub-head that implies she was part of a network of “opportunists” without adequate substantiation.

The apology should:

  • be published at the earliest opportunity on all the newspaper’s platforms, 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.

Pippa Green

Press Ombudsman

October 25, 2020