Sonono Khoza vs. Sunday World


Thu, Mar 22, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

22 March 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Complainants

 

 

Ms Sonono Khoza

 

 

Lodged by

 

 

            Ms Claire Waldeck of Waldeck Attorneys

 

Date of article

 

 

18 February 2018

 

Headline

 

 

The Nkunzi of Nkandla, his critics and protectors – some propped him while others made him account

 

 

Page

 

 

11

 

Print and online

 

 

Yes

 

Author of article

 

 

Mapula Nkosi

 

Respondents

 

Wendy Pretorius, managing editor; Nkosi

 

Complaint                                            

Khoza complains that the:

·         article:

o   was untruthful and inaccurate, inter alia because it falsely stated she had (publicly) declared her support for former Pres Jacob Zuma, and called her his “ally” or “protector” (this term was used in the sub-headline);

o   exposed the identity of her child, who was emotionally affected by such negative reporting; and

·         journalist did not give her a right of reply.

She concludes, “[T]his very political article seems to be used to tarnish my reputation by creating a negative impression about me in the public domain.”

The text

After Zuma had resigned as President of the country, the newspaper compiled a list of twelve “powerful female figures” who had “defined the important milestones of Zuma’s journey”.

The full text in question read as follows: “The daughter of Orlando Pirates owner Irvin Khoza, who is also said to be a Zuma ally, became known when it was revealed that she bore a daughter out of wedlock with him during the 2010 World Cup year. The revelations came a month after Zuma married his fifth wife. He apologised to the country and paid damages (a fee to traditionally acknowledge paternity in a pregnancy).”

The arguments

Untruthful, inaccurate

Pretorius denies that the text was untruthful and inaccurate – she says the article was based on public knowledge stemming from a public apology issued by Zuma, who had fathered a child with Khoza in February 2010.

“The report is a historical … article stating and summarising facts and is based on the milestones of Mr Zuma’s tumultuous presidency. One of the scandals that rocked his presidency was unfortunately the said incident that thrust the complainant into the spotlight. Sunday World simply reported these facts, which are a matter of public record and have been in the public domain for eight years,” she submits.

The editor adds:

·         The Press Code does not say that a newspaper may not name private citizens – on the contrary, it is desirable to do so in reports such as the one in question to ensure that the media stick to facts and are authentic;

·         Khoza’s objection to her name being used stems from her own personal preference and not from disputing that the facts stated are true – her preference that her name should not be used boils down to gagging the media;

·         The word “ally” was used in conjunction with the phrase “said to be”, indicating that Khoza’s father (and not she) was believed to be an ally of the former president; it also indicated that it was not established fact that he was such an ally;

·         As Zuma’s era abruptly came to an end, it was sufficiently of public interest to recall and sum up his misdemeanours and misdeeds – of which Khoza was part. “As an adult, and as the daughter of a man often in the public eye, Ms Khoza must have been aware that his conduct would have been under intense scrutiny and that the affair and/or the birth of their child would have become publicly known”;

·         The Press Code does not prohibit publishing facts in the public domain; and

·         Even if Khoza’s name has been tarnished, it was a consequence of her decision to have a child with a married man, and not because the newspaper referred to this fact.

Pretorius concludes that the headline pertained to and was related to Zuma’s journey, which rendered it fair.

Waldeck says that Pretorius’s response once again demonstrates the Sunday World believes that, by using the words “said to be”, it does not need to back up the veracity of its allegations with facts. She also argues that Khoza’s father’s name was not used in the article – it was Ms Khoza’s name that appeared in bold as a paragraph heading.

Pretorius replies the text never said that Ms Khoza was a “Zuma ally” – it referred to her father, and not to her. She says her father’s alleged long-time friendship with Zuma has been widely reported on – an allegation which Mr Khoza has not denied, or complained about to this office.  

She also points out the introductory statement (which gave context to the text that was to follow) mentioned twelve powerful female figures “who have defined the important milestones of Zuma’s journey”. She argues, “It was therefore not intended nor understood by readers that each of the women listed are, in an absolute and strict sense, either a ‘critic’ or a ‘protector’…”

Analysis

The text: Not a single word in the text is factually wrong and, given Zuma’s own apology, no further verification was needed.

However, the use of the words “Zuma ally” can be interpreted as either referring to her (as Khoza interprets it), or to her father (as the newspaper argues). It follows that the newspaper should have been more careful in how it phrased the sentence.

Whether Mr Khoza’s name was mentioned is neither here nor there.

Given this scenario, it would not be appropriate for me to make a definite finding either for or against the newspaper – even given the sub-headline which read, “4. Sonono Khoza”.

The heading:

 This read, The Nkunzi of Nkandla, his critics and protectors – some propped him while others made him account.

It is noticeable that only those people who cared to read further would have come across the reference to Khoza – and that would have been after taking cognisance of the qualifying sentence which stated that the text referred to “powerful female figures” who had “defined the important milestones of Zuma’s journey”.

In this case, then, the main headline should be read in conjunction with the sentence that put the necessary context to it, and not only with the sub-headline in which Khoza’s name appeared.

I therefore believe that the word “protector” should be understood in the wide sense of the word – which makes the headline acceptable (as it reasonably reflected the content of the article).

Exposing Khoza’s child

Pretorius says The Sunday World empathizes with the fact that the complainant is a mother of a minor. She submits it was neither the intention nor the objective of Sunday World to heap emotional distress on the minor.

She argues, “The report came about as compilation of memorable yet unsavoury and scandalous events the former president was involved in. The complainant, who has a minor child with the former president out of wedlock, is without doubt pivotal in this report and was the first of these scandals when the former president was merely eight months into his presidency. It’s regrettable but unavoidable that she remains part of this public record.”

The editor adds that the newspaper has minimized any negative impact the report may have had on the minor by deliberately not referring to her, or including her name.

Analysis

The managing editor is correct – Khoza’s involvement with Zuma put her, per implication, in the public spotlight.

Moreover, the mere fact that Khoza has a child, does not indemnify her from scrutiny or exposure.

The fact that the child’s name was not mentioned certainly counts in Sunday World’s favour.

No right of reply

Pretorius submits there was no need to approach Khoza for comment as the article was in no way critical of her – the text merely listed some of the scandals that characterised Zuma’s presidency. “It did not shed any new light on the affair between them, nor did it comment on the affair. It contained nothing at all that might have necessitated a comment from Ms Khoza,” she argues.

Analysis

Pretorius’s argument is correct and needs no further argument.

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