Winnie Ntshaba vs City Press


Wed, Oct 11, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

11 October 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Thipa Attorneys Inc, on behalf of TV actress Winnie Ntshaba, and those of Dumisane Lubisi, editor of the City Press newspaper.

Ntshaba is complaining about a story in City Press of 23 July 2017, headlined Scorned woman turn on playboy.

Complaint                                            

Ntshaba complains that the newspaper has breached the Press Code by:

  • creating the impression that she had had a sexual relationship with businessman Nico Matlala;
  • failing to report her denial to this effect;
  • failing to seek comment from her regarding the allegations about Matlala having paid for her groceries and DStv; and
  • impugning her dignity and character by picturing her as a person with few morals.

The text

The article, written by Bongani Mdakane, was about a “playboy” (Matlala) and some of his former alleged lovers, including Ntshaba, who had turned on him. The story inter alia quoted Matlala as saying that he had paid for Ntshaba’s groceries and DStv “because she is broke” and that he had slept with her at his house, claiming that this had been recorded.

The arguments

Ntshaba says Mdakane telephonically advised her that Matlala had photographed / recorded their sexual acts. She denied the allegations and challenged the journalist to produce any evidence to this effect (knowing that such evidence could not be produced as she never had such a relationship with Matlala).

She adds that the reporter admitted that he had not received any such evidence.

Lubisi replies that the reporter put “all allegations” to Ntshaba during a lengthy telephone discussion.

He refers to a Whatsapp voice recording, sent by Matlala to Ntshaba, in which he inter alia stated that he had paid for her DStv and groceries. He says this message was captured in a sidebar to the main story and notes that Ntshaba did not dispute the contents of the recording – in fact, she acknowledged that she did receive that message.

The editor says Ntshaba denied that she had had a sexual relationship with Matlala and agrees that she did ask for evidence in this regard. However, he says she told the journalist she would not entertain “rubbish” and stated that she did not wish to discuss each and every allegation – she would rather respond “holistically” to the allegations. He argues that this was recorded as such.

Lubisi submits that Ntshaba realised, after reading the story (and therefore too late), that she should have addressed the allegations adequately. He says if Ntshaba wants City Press to record her statement that she would not entertain rubbish, the newspaper is prepared to amend the online article accordingly and print a clarification to this effect as well.

The editor denies that the omission of Ntshaba’s denial was done to create the impression that she and Matlala had consensual sex, or to paint her as a person with low morals. He states, “City Press believe that Ms Ntshaba, after being made aware of the allegations, chose to answer questions in a way in which she believed would be read in the context that there was no truth to what Mr Matlala was claiming and that he would not succeed in tarnishing her good name.”

Lubisi concludes the story did not suggest, as fact, that there had been a sexual relationship between Matlala and Ntshaba – it merely quoted the former making those claims. “By reading the response of Ms Ntshapa, as carried, a reader would understood that she did not want to answer each of the allegations but chose her words carefully and responded with the response given.”

Ntshaba replies that the journalist did not explain to her that he intended to publish the content of the recording and reiterates that he did not put any specific allegations to her. She adds that the reporter should have explained to her the extent and nature of his article – without which she did not have the correct context to respond adequately to his enquiry.

She notes Lubisi admits that she in fact denied the allegations relating to sexual encounters with Matlala – yet this denial was not published, she remarks, and neither did the editor explain this omission.

Analysis

In their correspondence with this office both parties referred to what has transpired after publication. I have noted the content, but it is not going to influence my adjudication of the complaint – I need to deal with what was published (and what not).

As the allegations were of such a nature that they could have caused unnecessary harm to Ntshaba’s reputation, City Press should have exercised the necessary “care and consideration” in this regard, as required by Section 3.3 of the Press Code.

The crux of the complaint boils down to the question whether the reasonable reader would have understood that Ntshaba had denied the allegations (which Lubisi said she did in her conversation with the journalist).

The relevant part of the article reads as follows: “Ntshaba backed Madisakwane’s story. ‘We were being played here. He would tell me this about Palesa, and thereafter, off he went to tell Palesa things about me. We can’t allow a small boy to come here and want us to fight over him, as that would never happen; we are grown women in our forties. We can’t allow our names, which we worked hard for, to be dragged through the mud like this, not now and not ever,’ she said.”

Palesa Madisakwane, also a TV personality, was allegedly one of the women who had had a sexual relationship with Matlala, and who subsequently had “turned on him”.

I note that Madisakwane did not deny having had a sexual relationship with Matlala – on the contrary, the story stated as fact that the two had had a “three-month whirlwind romance”. The statement that Ntshaba had “backed Madisakwane’s story” can therefore not be understood as a denial of an alleged sexual relationship – if anything, it can rather be interpreted as an indication that Ntshaba, too, had such a relationship with Matlala.

The rest of the quotation also did not necessarily convey the impression that Ntshaba had denied the allegations – all it said, was that Ntshaba and Madisakwane should not allow their names to be dragged through the mud. Theoretically, this could mean that the allegations were untrue, but it could also mean that they were true and that the two women should (merely) not allow the allegations to surface.

Given what was written, and what not, as well as the context within which Ntshaba’s comments were recorded, coupled with the implications which the publication of the allegations could have carried, City Press should have taken care to explicitly record her denial of a sexual relationship with Matlala.

I do not blame the newspaper for not reporting the specific issues of the payment for groceries and DStv, as I accept that Ntshaba opted to respond “holistically” rather than going into details.

Given the fact that Matlala’s Whatsapp message was discussed between the reporter and Ntshaba, I also accept that all the allegations as recorded in the story were put to her.

Still, her “holistic” denial of a sexual relationship should have been recorded. The absence thereof could indeed have harmed her reputation without any justification, which cannot be fair.

Finding

The neglect to explicitly record Ntshaba’s denial that she had a sexual relationship with Matlala was in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

  • 1.1: “The media shall take care to report news … fairly”;
  • 1.2: “News shall be presented … in a balanced manner”; and
  • 3.3: “The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation.”

The complaint regarding the newspaper’s alleged failure to seek comment from her regarding the allegations about Matlala paying for her groceries and DStv is dismissed.

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 Press Code as indicated above is a Tier 2 offence.

Sanction

City Press is directed to apologise to Ntshaba for failing to record her denial of a sexual relationship with Matlala.

The newspaper is requested to publish:

  • the apology at the top of the:
    • same page as that of the offending story;
    • online article; and
  • headlines containing the words “apology” or “apologises”, and “Ntshaba”.

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 prepared by the newspaper and 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