Vaal Ahanang Foundation and Steve Lekoelea vs. Sunday Sun


Fri, Sep 8, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

8 September 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Taahir Nixon Theletsane, chairman of the Vaal Ahanang Foundation, writing on behalf of the foundation and Mr Steve Lekoelea, and on those of Johan Vos, deputy editor of the Sunday Sun newspaper.

Theletsane and Lekoelea are complaining about a story in Sunday Sun of 2 July 2017, headlined ‘Chippa meets his match’ – Footie denies being ‘moered after ass grab’.

Complaint                                            

They complain the allegation that women beat up soccer legend Steve “Chippa” Lekoelea after he had touched one of them on the buttocks was false, and that the (fabricated) story has unnecessarily dented their images. (The foundation was planning a series of community programmes, inter alia on drug abuse, in which Lekoelea was involved.)

The text

The article, written by Smanga Kumalo, said that Lekoelea found himself on the wrong side of a femme fatale beating – he allegedly was unable to dribble himself out of a “sticky situation” at a popular club in Sebokeng. According to sources, three women “moered” the former Orlando Pirates and Bafana Bafana soccer star after he had groped one of them on the buttocks.

Kumalo quoted a source who said Lekoelea had asked the woman if her behind was real or fake, while fondling it. Car guards reportedly came to Lekoelea’s rescue.

The latter denied all these allegations.

Arguments

Theletsane provided me with an affidavit by a brother of Lekoelea, Mr Le Jone Jonas Lekoelea, dated 28 July 2017, in which the latter states that he was with his brother on the day he visited a pub, as alleged by Sunday Sun, adding that he “slept at home that day as usual”.

The journalist denies that the story was fabricated – he says he has witnesses, and also saw video footage of the incident (which has since unfortunately been deleted), taken by a security guard. He mentions the name of the pub, and describes what attire he wore.

Vos supplied me with the names and telephone numbers of three witnesses, on condition of anonymity.

The deputy editor concludes that the story was reasonably true at the time of publication, and asserts that it was in the public interest.

Theletsane questions the existence of such a video, asking why it did not go viral and why it was deleted.

Analysis

I note that the story did not state the allegations as fact, but ascribed the information to sources and consistently used words such as “alleged” and “claimed”. The headline also used inverted commas, to indicate that the information was an opinion of a source.

I also take into account that Lekoelea was a public figure.

The affidavit is not of any use to me, inter alia because it does not deny that Lekoelea visited the pub at the time – all it says is that one of his brothers was with him and that he slept at home, as usual.

My office spoke to a primary source, who confirmed the information he / she gave to the journalist.

Given this testimony, I accept it was reasonable to believe that the story was true and that Sunday Sun was justified to publish the information.

The allegation that a video of the incident was deleted is unfortunate, but it does not change the arguments which have led to my finding.

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