Sjula Dlamini vs. Sunday World


Sun, Jul 9, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

9 July 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Sjula Dlamini and those of Amos Mananyetso, deputy editor of the Sunday World newspaper.

Dlamini, a former producer of SABC1’s music show Live Amp, is complaining about a story on page 6 in Sunday World of 11 June 2017, headlined Kelly’s ‘new lover’ in bribery claims – ‘Live Amp’ producer Sjula Dlamini denies allegations.

Complaint                                            

Dlamini complains the article falsely stated and / or implied that he had been:

·         Afro-pop singer Kelly Khumalo’s lover (a complaint which has been settled);

·         fired as producer from the “Live Amp” music show; and

·         soliciting money from artists, in return for which he would playlist their music on the TV show (read: bribery).

The text

The article, written by Aubrey Mothombeni, said that Dlamini was Khumalo’s “new lover” and that he had allegedly been booted out of the music show over claims of bribery against him. The story said he was allegedly suspended after several artists claimed he had demanded money from them to playlist their music on the show.

SABC spokesman, Kaizer Kganyago, reportedly referred the journalist to Urban Brew, the company producing Live Amp.

Dlamini denied the claims.

The arguments

Mananyetso submits the story was based on the fact that Dlamini was no longer a producer of the TV show Live Amp.

He says the reporter spoke to several people, including the SABC, to understand why Dlamini had left the show, which was when the newspaper got wind of “bribery” allegations against him. The broadcaster referred the reporter to the production company Urban Brew, after which the journalist spoke to that company’s communication person, Mr Marvin Cohen (whose response was captured in the story).

The deputy editor adds that the reporter also spoke to Dlamini himself, who confirmed that he knew about the allegations and spoke freely about certain musicians whom he claimed approached him with offers of bribery – which he declined. He says all Dlamini’s remarks were captured in the story, adding that Dlamini (and Cohen) also confirmed that the former was no longer working with the production of Live Amp.

Dlamini responds that, after retracting the “new love” in the article and apologising to Khumalo, the same publication then uploaded a link (headlined, Live Amp producer Sjula Dlamini in bribery claims) which falsely claimed that he had confirmed the allegations.

He says he told the reporter that he had heard the rumour about his suspension, and had confirmed with him that he had still been employed by Urban Brew Studios. He says Ms Natasha Wadvalla, the managing director of Urban Brew Studios (who wrote to the newspaper after the story had been published) also confirmed that he had never been suspended, and that there had never been any allegations levelled against him – yet, “After receiving this information they still went ahead and manufactured all these lies about me”.

The complainant adds that this reportage was damaging to his reputation and career, and asks the newspaper to divulge the basis of its reportage.

He says the journalist told him that the SABC had confirmed his suspension, “to which I said was impossible because it is not true, again he refused to say who at the SABC had confirmed this lie, to my surprise the article said SABC had referred them to Urban Brew Studios”.

Dlamini submits that Cohen was not the Urban Brew spokesman, in fact he was the co-producer of Live Amp – which is why Wadvalla sent the editor an e-mail requesting him to correct the story.

He adds that he explicitly told the journalist he had requested the move from Live Amp as he had been working on it for over eight years and needed the growth and change.  

He also asks the journalist to provide records of their conversation, as well as of the conversation with Cohen. “This should not be a lot to ask for from a publication that is brave enough to publish stories of this nature about people and their livelihood,” he adds.

Mananyetso replies the reporter told Dlamini he had spoken to an artist (who wants to remain anonymous) who claimed that he called his workplace and was told that he had been suspended.

The deputy editor denies that the story said the SABC confirmed that Dlamini had been suspended.

Mananyetso says the journalist, who asked to speak to a representative of the company, had his call transferred to Cohen. If the latter was not authorised to speak to the newspaper, he could have said so – a publication cannot dictate to Urban Brew who should respond, he argues.

He suggests that Dlamini goes through the story again to decide whether he wishes to proceed with this point – in the complaint, says Mananyetso, Dlamini said he had confirmed with the journalist that he was still employed by Urban Brew Studios, yet, in fact he told the reporter that he had left the show for greener pastures.

The deputy editor also argues, “We did not say Dlamini confirmed the allegations against him, he in fact confirmed knowing of the allegations, which did not mean that he had been admitting to any wrong-doing.”

In conclusion, Mananyetso says, “The correction that was done online and the publication of a retraction in the paper had nothing to do with our communication with … Wadvalla. Ms Kelly Khumalo launched her own complaint against Sunday World through her lawyers which was then dealt with our lawyers.”

Analysis

The crux of the story is that Dlamini was “allegedly booted out” (this later changed to “allegedly suspended [from]”) of the music show over bribery claims.

The fact that he did not work as producer at the show anymore, as argued by the deputy editor, is neither here nor there – what is relevant, is the reason for that situation.

Also, please note in this regard that leaving the show did not mean leaving Urban Brew Studios

Firstly, it is problematic that the allegations leveled against Dlamini were not attributed to a source – not even to an anonymous one. The first sentence merely said “he was allegedly booted out of the SABC1 music show over bribery claims”; the second sentence added that he “was allegedly suspended after several artists complained he had demanded money from them in order to playlist their songs on the show”.

That was all the story said – the rest of the article consisted of Dlamini’s denials, SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago’s mostly generalized statements, and Cohen’s abrupt response (he could not confirm or deny that Dlamini had been suspended; all he could say was that the producer had been moved to another production).

This, to my mind, is irresponsible reporting – making serious allegations in literally two sentences, without any attribution whatsoever, and then sitting back to see how the pigeons react once the cat has been released among them.

Following the Code of Ethics and Conduct, this office has warned journalists over and over again to:

·         beware of anonymous sources and to use them only if there is no other way of obtaining the information;

·         use more than one such source, as its information should be corroborated; and

·         understand that the mere use of the word “allegedly” is not always enough to guarantee ethical reporting.

It pains me to say that Sunday World has actually taken a step backwards from this in that it did not even refer to an anonymous source. If the newspaper had any reason to believe that its story was reasonably true, as required by Section 1.3 of the Code, it certainly obscured that reason from the public – it really gave its readers no chance to make up their own minds as to the credibility of the story.

Moreover, the only reference Mananyetso makes to a source in his response to the complaint, is to say that the reporter spoke to an artist (who wanted to remain anonymous) who claimed that he called his workplace and was told that he had been suspended.

That is called hearsay, as the source was not a primary one.

Also, if there was any attempt at verification, the reporter again succeeded in obscuring that from the public.

The relevant part of Wadvalla’s e-mail to the editor should be noted:

“Urban Brew Studios would like to state that the bribery claims against Sjula Dlamini are untrue. The production house stands behind Sjula and would like to vouch for his integrity as a person.

“Your article also incorrectly alleges that he was dismissed from Urban Brew Studios, which is not correct. He was moved from Live Amp to head up a brand new show that required his level of experience and expertise as a producer.

“As such, and because there are many factual inaccuracies in this article, we would like to request that you print an apology to Sjula Dlamini and Urban Brew Studios.”

I agree that the newspaper cannot dictate to an organisation who should speak on its behalf – but here we now have the official view of Dlamini’s employer.

I shall believe the journalist if he presents the public with information which is reasonable and essentially true. Until such time I have no reason to believe the reportage.

I am glad my name is not Sjula Dlamini – for the unnecessary harm that this unfair reportage is likely to cause his reputation is incalculable.

Finding

The story was in breach of the following sections of the Code of Ethics and Conduct:

·         1.1: “The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”;

·         1.7: “Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report or a source and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be stated in such report”; and

·         3.3: “The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving … reputation.”

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 breach of the Code of Ethics and Conduct as indicated above is a Tier 2 offence.

Sanction

Sunday World is directed to apologise to Dlamini, without any reservation, for alleging that he had lost his job as producer of “Live Amp” over bribery claims – and for the unnecessary harm this unverified and unfair story must have caused his reputation.

The newspaper is requested to publish:

·         a summary of the finding, starting with the apology and putting the matter in context, on the top half of page 6, with a headline containing the words “apology” or “apologises”, and “Dlamini”; and

·         the same text online (if the story appeared there as well).

The text should:

·         be published at the earliest opportunity after the time for an application for leave to appeal has lapsed;

  • 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 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.

Johan Retief

Press Ombud