Uyanda Mbuli vs Sunday Sun


Tue, Sep 25, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

25 September 2018

Particulars

Date of article: 29 July 2018

Headline: Legal line drawn – Uyanda faces off against fiery fan

Page: 1 headline; story on page 3

Online: Yes

Author of article: Mduduzi Nonyane

Respondent: Johan Vos, deputy editor

Complaint                                            

Mbuli complains that the journalist has:

  • gained access to a confidential court file which was in the hands of South African Police Services and the court, which was still under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion;
  • misquoted her affidavit to boost sales, while undermining her court case even before it started, in the following ways:
    • “Uyanda’s affidavit mentions another three unidentified women, who also ganged up on her, using foul language.”
    • Ms Ramushu greeted her politely and asked to take a picture with Uyanda, she then accused her of gaining wealth from a blesser in Dubai”;
    • “Uyanda told cops the insults continued on her cellphone”;
    • “[Uyanda] said Ramushu threatened to spread the allegations on social media – which she later did do”; and
    • “[Uyanda] said: ‘It’s unconstitutional for Sunday Sun to gain access to and make public confidential affidavits and court papers for purposes of selling the newspaper…”

The text

The article was about “socialite” and soapie star Uyanda Mbuli, who had opened a case of crimen injuria against Ms S. Ramushu for accusing her of “allegedly milking a blesser from Dubai”. According to police information, the alleged incident happened at Florence Essence, a beauty spa in Sandton.

The complaint in further detail

‘Unconstitutional’

The sentence read: “[Uyanda] said: ‘It’s unconstitutional for Sunday Sun to gain access to and make public confidential affidavits and court papers for purposes of selling the newspaper…”

Mbuli says this quote should have read:

“[Uyanda] said: ‘It’s unconstitutional for Sunday Sun to gain access to and make public confidential affidavits and court papers which are in the hands of the South African Police Services and the Court for purposes of selling the newspaper…” (the underlined words were omitted in the story).

She argues that her statement was altered “to be suitable to the commercial needs of selling their newspaper”. 

Three unidentified women

The reporter stated: “Uyanda’s affidavit mentions another three unidentified women, who also ganged up on her, using foul language.

Mbuli denies that any such statement appears in her affidavit.

‘Blesser in Dubai’

The statement in dispute read: “Ms Ramushu greeted her politely and asked to take a picture with Uyanda, she then accused her of gaining wealth from a blesser in Dubai.”

She says the journalist twisted the facts to make readers believe this took place in her presence – while the accusation of her gaining wealth from a blesser in Dubai had been made through a Facebook post which took place after Ramushu had met her and requested a picture at Florence Essence. “At the time of her asking for a picture I had no idea who she was except a lady who had merely asked for a picture,” she says.

Insults on cellphone

The journalist reported: “Uyanda told cops the insults continued on her cellphone”.

Mbuli denies that she has made this statement. She says she merely stated that Florence Essence gave her Ramushu’s mobile number which she used to make her aware via text that her Facebook post was a criminal act of crimen injuria and defamation, and demanded an apology – which she never gave.

Spreading allegations on social media

The article said: “[Uyanda] said Ramushu threatened to spread the allegations on social media – which she later did do.”

Mbuli says the journalist added this statement to spice up the story.

Sunday Sun replies

Vos says the words “which states this particular file is in the hands of the South African Police Services and Court” was edited out as the comment from the police spokeswoman clearly indicated that “the docket is ready for a decision to prosecute”.

He also submits that the article stated nothing pejorative about Mbuli; instead, it has portrayed her as a victim.

The deputy editor admits that Nonyane did not see Mbuli’s affidavit, and only relied on the police statement – which  the journalist then misinterpreted. He states, “We take this matter seriously and are considering internal disciplinary processes.”

Vos offers to publish the following apology, retraction and correction:

“We published the article headlined “LEGAL LINE DRAWN” on 29 July 2018. We would like to correct the following factual inaccuracies:

“We referred to Uyanda’s affidavit in the text, it should’ve read police statement.  We stated in the article: ‘Ms Ramushu asked to take a picture with Uyanda, she then accused her of gaining wealth from a blesser in Dubai. Uyanda told cops the insults continued on her cellphone. She said Ramushu threatened to spread the allegations on social media – which she later did do.’

“This was a misinterpretation as the police statement indicates that Ms Ramushu approached the complainant at a spa and asked to take a picture with her. According to the statement the complainant then received a Facebook screenshot, while at home, of a picture taken with Ms Ramushu. The police statement then says that the text of the screenshot stated that people must be careful of Uyanda as she has a blesser in Dubai.

“We would like to apologise to Uyanda Mbuli and our readers for the factual inaccuracies and would like to retract the article.”

Analysis

The most worrying thing about the reportage is that there is no other reasonable explanation than to believe that the journalist has fabricated large parts of the story.

Based on Vos’s explanation, Nonyane never saw Mbuli’s affidavit, and only relied on a police document for information. This, of course, made the reference in the story to the affidavit false.

But that was not all. This quite inexplicable mistake set the tone for what was to follow – “information” garnered from a police document that never was contained in that document in the first place.

The police statement reads as follows (unedited):

Complainant alleged that on 2018-05-28 she arrived at Florence Essence in Grayston Mews in Sandon where she find three people one named Ms Ramushu was found there and it was the first time she saw the person. Miss Ramushu greeted [Mbuli] said she wanted to take pictures with her and she was so pilite. [Mbuli] on 2018-06-20 while home she received a Facebook screen screenshot taken with Miss Ramushu and the Facebook was written people must be careful with Uyanda she has a blesser at Dubai”.

Turning to the story, Nonyane inter alia reported that:

  • Mbuli’s “affidavit” mentioned three unidentified women who also “ganged up on her, using foul language”;
  • Ramushu  accused Mbuli, in Florence Essence, of gaining wealth from a blesser in Dubai;
  • Mbuli told the police the insults continued on her cellphone; and
  • Ramushu (while at the beauty spa) threatened to spread the allegations on social media.

None of these statements was contained in the police document (which was the only evidence placed before me).

I have no other reasonable explanation for this than to believe that the journalist has made this up.

I therefore believe that Vos is too kind when he says the reporter has “misunderstood” the matter. The harsh reality, which he and Sunday Sun must face, is that the journalist has fabricated “news” – the police document was not interesting enough, so it had to be “spiced up”.

But that is not all. Nowadays, the media are bombarded with fake news, which is the deliberate intention to mislead them – and sometimes they become the victim in this process for not realising in time what has happened. In this case, though, the media became the source of fake news – disinformation not received by, but created by the publication.

The seriousness of such an offence cannot be under-estimated, as such “reportage” erodes the credibility of the media – which, really, is the lifeblood of the industry. Without credibility, the media have nothing.

While I appreciate Vos’s offer to publish an apology, I also will have to amend some of the wording to suit this finding (see under “sanction” below).

In conclusion, it is not for this office to say whether it was “unconstitutional” for a newspaper “to gain access and make public confidential affidavits and court papers”. Only the Constitutional Court can pronounce on what is constitutional or unconstitutional.

I am also not concerned about the omission of the words “which are in the hands of the South African Police Services and the Court”, as this message was implied in what was published. Sunday Sun was under no obligation to publish Mbuli’s comments in full.

Finding

The fabrication of news was in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

  • 1.1: “The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”; and
  • 1.2: “News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion … or misrepresentation…”

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 fabrication of “news” is a Tier 3 offence.

Sanction

Sunday Sun is directed to publish the following apology and retraction:

Sunday Sun apologises to Ms Uyanda Mbuli and to all our readers for fabricating parts of the article headlined “LEGAL LINE DRAWN” on 29 July 2018.

This follows a complaint lodged by Mbuli with the office of the Press Ombud, who found that the journalist had “spiced up” certain parts of the story

The article was about Mbuli who had opened a case of crimen injuria against Ms S. Ramushu for accusing her of “allegedly milking a blesser from Dubai”. According to police information, the alleged incident happened at Florence Essence, a beauty spa in Sandton.

The police statement indicated that Ramushu had asked Mbuli to take a picture with her. Mbuli later received a Facebook screenshot of a picture taken of her with Ramushu. The statement then said the text of the screenshot had stated that people had to be careful of Uyanda as she had a blesser in Dubai.

Press Ombud Johan Retief found that none of the following statements in our article could be substantiated:

  • Mbuli’s ‘affidavit’ mentioned three unidentified women who also ‘ganged up on her, using foul language’;
  • Ramushu  accused Mbuli, in Florence Essence, of gaining wealth from a blesser in Dubai;
  • Mbuli told the police the insults continued on her cellphone; and
  • Ramushu (while at the beauty spa) threatened to spread the allegations on social media.

“I have no other reasonable explanation for this than to believe that the journalist has made this up… But that is not all. Nowadays, the media are bombarded with fake news, which is the deliberate intention to mislead them – and sometimes they become the victim in this process for not realising in time what has happened. In this case, though, the media became the source of fake news – disinformation not received by, but created by the publication. The seriousness of such an offence cannot be under-estimated, as such ‘reportage’ erodes the credibility of the media – which, really, is the lifeblood of the industry. Without credibility, the media have nothing,” he stated.

We apologise to Mbuli and our readers for the factual inaccuracies and hereby retract the article.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

The newspaper is directed to publish:

  • this text at the top of page 3, with a headline containing the words “apology” or “apologises”, and “Mbuli”;
  • online (at the top of that page);
  • a kicker on its front page, containing the words “apology” or “apologises” and “Mbuli”, and referring to the text on page 3.

The text should:

  • be published at the earliest opportunity after the time for an application for leave to appeal has lapsed or, in the event of such an application, after that ruling; and
  • be published with the logo of the Press Council (attached).

Post script

Note that I have not asked Sunday Sun to remove the offending article from its website. Section 1.12 of the Press Code makes provision for this if an article is defamatory. I do not believe that to be the case as the reportage, as unethical as it was, did not defame Mbuli.

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