Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, IFP vs. Mail & Guardian


Mon, Sep 17, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

17 September 2018

Particulars

Lodged by: IFP Director of Communications, Ms LL van der Merwe, MP; and IFP National Spokesperson, Mr Mkhuleko Hlengwa, MP.

Date of article: 6 July 2018

Headline: Battered by the flu...and Shenge

Author of article: Paddy Harper

Respondent: Harper

Complaint                                            

The complaint is about reportage on the history of the establishment of the Ingonyama Trust, which Buthelezi and the IFP say was presented inaccurately, unfairly and out of context by the reporter.

They also complain that the article did not clarify whether it was news or comment – if the:

·         former, the journalist should have included his views on the matter; and

·         latter, it should have been clearly stated as such.

(The complaint is also about two other articles, also penned by Paddy Harper, published on 26 January 2018 and 9 March 2018 respectively – both too late for adjudication.)

The text

The article was about an imbizo called by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini to mobilise support against the proposals by Parliament’s high-level panel, headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, to scrap the Ingonyama Trust. More specifically, the text focused on Buthelezi’s (also called “Shenge” by his supporters) role in this matter.

The arguments

Van der Merwe and Hlengwa say Harper used his own subjective invective and factually incorrect interpretation as regards the establishment of the Ingonyama Trust to reflect on the matter.

They submit the journalist incorrectly contends that the Ingonyama Trust had been  established as a concession that was concocted between former President FW de Klerk and Buthelezi to ensure the IFP’s participation in the 1994-elections – despite the fact that they have already corrected him on this issue on three separate occasions this year alone.

They deny de Klerk’s alleged role in the Ingonyama Trust Act, and that the Trust was given to the IFP to secure its participation in the 1994-elections. Instead, they assert, the Act was passed by the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly, which neither required nor sought permission from the National Party Government to do so.

“The KLA was well within its rights to pass this legislation,” they continue. “The intention of the Act was to preserve the land left to the Zulu Nation after colonial conquest and racial dispossessions, so that this land could continue to be administered in the best interests of traditional communities. This had nothing to do with negotiations. The Ingonyama Trust Act was the basis upon which the IFP re-entered the 1994 elections.”

Harper replies that the IFP’s and Buthelezi’s version of history “stands somewhat in isolation”, and gives various reasons to motivate his opinion.

Van der Merwe and Hlengwa proffer various counter-arguments in an attempt to refute Harper’s interpretation, saying that a “generally accepted” version does not make it true. They also dispute that the journalist’s version was the “generally accepted” one – “considering how often they have been contradicted.”  They call the reporter’s interpretation a “pure and unsubstantiated fabrication and fiction with no credible evidentiary support”.

Analysis

I have purposefully kept the arguments about the interpretation of this specific part of history short, if not altogether omitting them. The reason for this is simple: This office cannot be expected to pronounce on interpretations. The one person’s terrorist could be another’s freedom fighter.

I can, however, make a ruling on whether the M&G has adhered to Section 7 of the Press Code.

Under the headline Protected Comment, that section states:

7.1.  The media shall be entitled to comment upon or criticise any actions or events of public interest.

7.2.  Comment or criticism is protected even if extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it:

7.2.1.  expresses an honestly-held opinion;

7.2.2.  is without malice;

7.2.3.  is on a matter of public interest;

7.2.4.  has taken fair account of all material facts that are substantially true; and

7.2.5.  is presented in such manner that it appears clearly to be comment. 

It is noticeable that the newspaper indicated at the very top that it was an opinion piece. Also, the manner in which the text was presented (read: the – consistent – use of the first person) immediately made this clear.

I have no reason whatsoever to find that Harper was in breach of any of these sub-sections. He has a right to his opinion, which is the same right the M&G has to publish it. It really does not matter if Harper holds a majority or minority opinion on this issue.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombud