Directors of Umhlaba Wethu Development vs. GroundUp


Mon, Nov 26, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

26 November 2018

Particulars

Lodged by: Ms Sophie Mahuzie, chairperson of Umhlaba Wethu Development (UWD)

Date of articles: 29 August 2018                                              

Headlines: Dirty Tricks: the battle to control the Helen Bowden and Woodstock occupations (primary complaint); and, Allegations of violence at Helen Bowden nursing home

Authors of article: GroundUp staff, including the editor

Respondent: Nathan Geffen, editor

Complaint                                            

Even though the complaint was received approximately a week out of time, the editor indicated that he was willing to proceed with adjudication.

UWD complains that GroundUp:

  • published untruthful, inaccurate, unfair and unbalanced / biased (“defamatory”) statements in both stories, especially with reference to the allegation that it was a front for the ANC;
  • did not afford it a right of reply and did not publish its response to allegations made against it;
  • was involved in a conflict of interest; and
  • contradicted itself in the two articles (with reference to Dr Lucy Graham’s alleged position in the organisation).

It concludes that the defamatory statements made against it and endorsed in print by GroundUp have damaged its reputation, thereby jeopardising its aim of securing the SABC Rocklands building to the benefit of Sea Point’s low income community, and potentially threatening its chances of securing funding to strive for a better life for historically disadvantaged people.

The texts

The first article was about “violent attempts” to take over Helen Bowden (an emergency safe house for victims of violence in Green Point, Cape Town) and a smear campaign against Ndifuna Ukwazi’s (NU) leaders (who managed the place) by rival groups.

Reclaim the City (RTC), an initiative by NU (an NGO), reportedly occupied Helen Bowden Nurses Home in March 2017.

RTC has reportedly also rebuffed attempts by political parties, including members of the SACP, EFF and ANC, to organise in Helen Bowden. “Our movement is non-partisan,” the organisation told GroundUp via email. “The occupation could easily be captured by political parties, opportunists and criminals, when we wanted to make it a home for workers.”

The story also said tension had been escalating between RTC and NU, on the one hand, and Mr Cameron Dugmore, a member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature for the ANC, on the other hand.

RTC reportedly accused Dugmore and Graham of setting up a “rival housing organisation” called Umhlaba Wethu, which started in 2017. “We think Umhlaba Wethu is a front for the ANC in Sea Point,” RTC was quoted as saying.

“Dugmore saw the work we have been doing in Sea Point to stop the sale of public land and we think he wanted to ride the wave to build his profile… We think he wanted to use the occupations to help rebuild an ANC branch in Sea Point where he has old friends,” RTC was quoted as saying

The story quoted Dugmore and Graham quite extensively.

GroundUp published an interview with Dugmore, comprising nearly 3 000 words, directly underneath the article

The second story dealt with allegations contained in three sets of affidavits that Graham had provided to GroundUp. One of these affidavits came from a director of UWD, Mr Malibongwe Tuku (who was quoted quite extensively).

The arguments

Defamatory statements

Front for the ANC

UWD complains about the following sentences in the first article:

  • “Reclaim the City accuses [Cameron] Dugmore [a member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature for the ANC] and a Sea Point resident, Lucy Graham, of setting up a ‘rival housing organisation’ called Umhlaba Wethu, which started in 2017 (their website started in May 2018). ‘We think Umhlaba Wethu is a front for the ANC in Sea Point,’ says Reclaim the City”; and
  • “ ‘Dugmore saw the work we have been doing in Sea Point to stop the sale of public land and we think he wanted to ride the wave to build his profile,’ says Reclaim the City. ‘We think he wanted to use the occupations to help rebuild an ANC branch in Sea Point where he has old friends’.”

Firstly, UWD denies that it is a “front” for any political party and that it was “set up” by Graham and Dugmore. Mahuzie says this falsely reduced the UWD to being a mere prop in a politician’s campaign.

She submits that UWD was started by members of Sea Point’s low-income black community, from the ground upwards, with positive intentions, hope and idealism. “It began with us having the goal to use the SABC’s derelict Rocklands site for affordable housing… After we decided on this goal, we then approached people to support our aims,” she asserts.

She adds that only one of UWD’s six directors was a registered ANC member, and that each director’s political affiliation is their own personal choice of association.

Mahuzie says the front-statement came after at least half of UWD’s directors were violently and illegally evicted from Helen Bowden at the end of June 2018. This, she asserts, is part of a strategy to intimidate UWD’s members and to discredit the organisation – so that RTC, which was formed in 2016 with the backing of NU, could control and monopolise the campaign for affordable housing in the area. “There is clearly a lot at stake as the NGO Ndifuna Ukwazi receives millions in donor money for supposedly advocating for its campaigns, including affordable housing,” she says.

GEFFEN says the statement in question was made by RTC and not by GroundUp, it was accurately quoted, and it was an opinion apparently based on their understanding of the facts.

To explain the above, Geffen says the following about four of UWD’s six directors:

  • Mahuzie is a senior member of the ANC Sea Point Branch;
  • Tuku has several criminal convictions and at least three open criminal cases that include rape, housebreaking, assault, theft and crimen iniuria; he is also an ANC branch member for Sea Point;
  • Mr Spetho Willie is an MK military veteran; and
  • Ms Thandeka Sisusa, whose email address and telephone number is provided as the contact person for UWD, was a former ANC candidate in Sea Point.

He adds that:

  • Dugmore is a member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature and a long-standing member of the ANC – and, according to GroundUp’s research, he appears to have been intimately involved in committee meetings and the formation of UWD; and
  • based on a Facebook post by Graham, she has been actively campaigning for the EFF until as late as 12 September 2017; furthermore, an interview he had with her on  31 July 2018 confirmed that she was instrumental in drafting documents for UWD about the SABC building and attended to its registration.

He concludes it was reasonable for GroundUp to publish the opinion expressed by RTC.

In addition, GroundUp has also published extensive responses from Graham and Dugmore – who have not complained about its reportage.

He says both Graham and Dugmore have conceded that they are supporters of and gave assistance to UWD. This is also confirmed in twelve different places in the complaint by UWD, wherein their support and assistance are emphasised.

He says that while UWD was only formed on 12 June 2018, Graham and Cameron had already become involved with its establishment as early as May 2018. “It therefore appears that there is factual support for the opinion expressed by RTC and quoted in this part of the article,” he repeats.

Geffen also points out that, as an NPC, UWD has no members and only directors – “membership” is therefore probably a loosely defined concept in that organisation.

Given all of the above, Geffen concludes it was fair comment  for RTC to express the opinions as encapsulated in this paragraph – and accordingly reasonable for GroundUp to publish its opinion.

MAHUZIE replies that many of the African people in Sea Point involved in the struggle for affordable housing were ANC members. This includes the main and current RTC leaders of the Helen Bowden occupation and of the Sea Point Chapter of RTC.

She denies that Tuku is a member of the Sea Point branch of the ANC because:

  • that branch does not exist anymore; and
  • he is currently not a registered ANC member.

She repeats that only one of UWD’s six directors is currently a registered ANC member.

Furthermore, she says that Dugmore has only attended two of UWD’s meetings – the first when the Rocklands project was introduced to him, and the second where we had a photograph taken with him showing support at the Rocklands site.

She adds that Dugmore never told GroundUp that he was “part of” UWD – he merely said he had been approached to “assist” UWD with the Rocklands project. Indeed, Dugmore’s only relationship with UWD is that he had supported its Rocklands project.

She says other people have also offered assistance and support, and asks: “Are these people now all entitled to speak for us when we should be given right of reply, just because they have met with us?”

She concludes: “Instead of taking a position sympathetic to victims and vulnerable people, Ground Up is now, on behalf of its friends NU/RTC, continuing this vicious campaign against us and other vulnerable people. It is even more disturbing that this campaign comes from an alliance of middle-class and mainly powerful men, who are trying to destroy us in the most vicious ways. We should not have to endure this sort of persecution.”

Analysis

It is important to note that GroundUp did not make the statement in question, RTC did. The only question is if this comment was fair. This, I believe, the editor has done successfully.

Therefore, there was no reason whatsoever for the publication not to report that allegation – on condition, though, that it gave UWD an opportunity to respond.

It really is as simple as that.

Graham and the EFF

The sentence in dispute read: “[Graham] has since left the EFF and now organises with Dugmore and Umhlaba Wethu.”

Mahuzie says this statement is misleading and inaccurate, as it implies that the former only started organizing with Dugmore and UWD after she had left the EFF – thereby stimulating the false narrative that the organisation was a “front for the ANC”.

She also notes that this allegation was stated as fact.

She says:

  • Graham was an EFF member for more than a year, and during this entire time she was supporting UWD’s project to request the SABC Rocklands buildings for affordable housing; and
  • While she was an EFF member she was also assisting UWD to communicate with DA officials to request part of the Sea Point Civic Centre for affordable housing.

She concludes there is no evidence to back up the statement about Graham leaving the EFF to organize with Dugmore and UWD. She says she can only assume that GroundUp has deliberately made a false and misleading statement, acting as a mouthpiece for NU / RTC, in order to fit a fake news narrative about UWD being “a front for the ANC”.

GEFFEN says the evidence referred to above indicates that:

  • Graham was still actively campaigning for the EFF in late 2017; she also assisted with the drafting of company documents and their submission for registration and with the drafting of documents for the company and its directors; and
  • Dugmore attended an UWD committee meeting in May 2018, before the company was formed (in June 2018).

He concludes that the statement in question is therefore true.

MAHUZIE states that nothing in GroundUp’s response adequately addresses the complaint.

She submits that the publication has distorted facts about Graham’s EFF membership to fit RTC’s false claim that UWD was “a front for the ANC” set up by Graham and Dugmore.

She argues: “Ground Up deliberately made false and misleading statements about Dr Graham’s membership of the EFF to spin a narrative that she ‘left the EFF’ to ‘organize’ with an ANC MPL and with us. Clearly, RTC’s false narrative that we are ‘a front for the ANC’ set up by Dugmore and Graham, does not make sense in the context of Dr Graham’s EFF membership, and so Ground Up distorted the truth in order to fit the narrative of NU/RTC, making it seem that she left the EFF and now supports ‘an ANC front’.”

She says Graham confirmed that she had resigned from the EFF on 25 July 2018, a few days before she met with GroundUp to appeal to them to reconsider their one-sided coverage of the Helen Bowden occupation. “This means she was supporting us, for more than a year, while an EFF member, and that she had only recently resigned from the EFF before meeting Ground Up in late July,” she concludes.

Analysis

I have no reason to doubt the information that Graham:

  • officially resigned from the EFF on 25 July this year; and
  • was involved with UWD before that time – as a member of the EFF, therefore.

Let me now take a close look at the sentence in dispute: “[Graham] has since left the EFF and now organises with Dugmore and Umhlaba Wethu.” It was true that Graham has “since left the EFF” and that she “organises with Dugmore and Umhlaba Wethu”. The problem, though, comes in with the words “and now”.

These words imply that she only organised with UWD after she had left the EFF (which is not true) – and it certainly added to the perception already created that the former was a front for the ANC.

The use of the words “and now” was totally unnecessary, as GroundUP was perfectly justified to report RTC’s allegation about the UWD being a front for the ANC.

I therefore agree with Mahuzie that this sentence was misleading and false – and I would add, not presented in the correct context.

Please note, though, I am not saying the article suggested that Graham had left the EFF in order to organise with Dugmore and UWD. The issue is simpler than that. The problem, as I have stated, is only with the words “and now” – which implied that she had not been involved in UWD while she was an EFF member.

Opportunists, criminals

UWD complains about the following sentence: “Reclaim the City has also rebuffed attempts by political parties, including members of the SACP, EFF and ANC, to organise in Helen Bowden. ‘Our movement is non-partisan,’ the organisation told GroundUp by email. ‘The occupation could easily be captured by political parties, opportunists and criminals, when we wanted to make it a home for workers’.”

MAHUZIE says the “political parties” are equated with “opportunists and criminals”, and they are all historically black. She says this shows contempt for the historical context of their struggle for affordable housing in the Sea Point area.

She says GroundUp is igniting and feeding a factional battle in order to distract from the real issue of violations and accountability at the Helen Bowden occupation. “There is no one to protect us from well-funded NGOs coming in from outside and harming our communities by creating factionalism that leads to violence. If anyone dares to criticise or challenge them, NU/RTC respond with violence, human rights violations, and/or vicious smear campaigns and defamation through social media and their related media outlets… It is even more unacceptable when these NGOs then use their related media outlets to make themselves even less accountable, to defame vulnerable people, and to blame and defame those who have tried to hold NGOs accountable,” she says.

GEFFEN replies that the sentence in dispute was a direct (verbatim, correct and valid) quote from RTC. He also denies that this quote equated traditionally black political parties with criminals and opportunists.

Analysis

It is important not to look at this sentence in isolation, but rather in its context.

Prior to the sentence in dispute, it was stated that:

  • approximately thirty people forcefully entered Ahmed Kathrada House, bypassing security who had the keys to lock the gates to protect the House. The group reportedly intimidated people, kicked in doors and claimed rooms. At least one comrade was beaten up;
  • RTC says that the majority were aligned to a well-known student political group at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology; one member of the group was reportedly responsible for burning a building during student protests at the university;
  • RTC reportedly said this group included “at least seven armed thugs whom they installed on the fourth floor”;
  • This was not the first attempt by a new group of people to enter the occupation – on 6 September 2017, about 50 people tried to enter the premises. When they could not get in, they pelted the guards with “bottles and other things”; and
  • In another incident, a group of men tried to enter a building at night, demanding accommodation. A cool-headed police officer reportedly talked them into leaving, pointing out that it is impolite to come in the middle of the night to ask for accommodation.

Given this context, it follows that the use of the words “criminals” and “opportunists” were justified, and that there is no reason why those references were “equated” with political parties.

Part of UWD

UWD complains that the following statement in the second article was false and misleading: “Tuku is also part of Umhlaba Wethu, along with Graham and … Dugmore. It is hard to separate Tuku’s claims from the tension between these organisations…”

MAHUZIE says neither Graham nor Dugmore were “part” of UWD as they held no positions in the organization, and they were not even members – they were merely supporters of the organisation. She also notes that the journalists presented this statement as fact, and not as an allegation.

She says this is an attempt defame Tuku and to spread lies about Graham and Dugmore, who have tried to assist UWD and victims of violations.

Mahuzie adds:

  • Tuku was recently targeted for violent illegal eviction from the Helen Bowden occupation partly because of the reportage in GroundUp; and
  • UWD communicated with Dugmore because the Rocklands building was owned by a parastatal at a national level. She adds: “We also sent communication to DA officials … and it appears this proposal was successful.”

She concludes that GroundUp has deliberately misrepresented the facts to discredit Tuku through association with the organisation.

GEFFEN says it is not clear why Graham and Dugmore’s association with UWD would be defamatory.

He submits that, in light of the admitted association of Graham and Dugmore with UWD in their communication, the establishment of the organisation, attendance of meetings, web-design and other forms of support and assistance, they were indeed “part of” the company.

MAHUZIE replies GroundUp must not play innocent by saying it does not understand that was defamatory to claim that Tuku, Graham and Dugmore were “part” of UWD – when this statement contained a link to an article with the title “Dirty Tricks”, which implied wrongdoing. She says the statement in the article that UWD was a front for the ANC was defamatory (by falsely implying in the title that it was linked to a “dirty tricks” campaign).

Analysis

The question is if the use of the words “part of UWD” with relation to Graham and Dugmore was justified.

The construction “part of” can be interpreted narrowly (read: being a member of), or widely (read: involved or included in).

For example, Person A says to Person B: “You are part of our family”. This can be narrowly interpreted, meaning that Person B is in fact family; it can also be interpreted more widely, meaning that while person B is not actually family, she / he is so involved in that circle that that person can be regarded as “part of” the family.

I believe that Graham’s and Dugmore’s involvement in UWD was such that it could justifiably be described as “part of” UWD – meaning, that they were sufficiently involved in the organisation to be regarded as such.

No right of reply; response ignored

MAHUZIE says UWD has a website with contact details – and Ground Up has no excuse for not contacting the organisation for comment.  She adds that UWD sent the publication a response, but states that GroundUp chose to ignore it.

GROUNDUP says it acted at all times under the bona fide assumption that Dugmore was speaking on behalf of UWD. This assumption was predicated on and further compounded by the Dugmore’s apparent role in the original committee of UWD, and the fact that he had seemed to address the issues raised in respect of the organisation without hesitation.

Geffen adds that GroundUp had extensive discussions with:

  • Tuku (a director of UWD), and that his views were taken into account in the article; and
  • Graham, who had been closely involved in the drafting of documents, and in the establishment of UWD.

The editor stresses that GroundUp tenders to amend the article to include an additional comment from a representative of UWD, denying that it is an ANC front. “Had GroundUp been asked to do so immediately after publication by Umhlaba Wethu, this would have been done,” he submits.

MAHUZIE says Geffen’s arguments regarding Dugmore is an “inadequate and disingenuous response that is beyond the limits of credibility, and it should be rejected outright”.

She says GroundUp acknowledged receiving a response from UWD’s directors – yet it completely ignored it. “We were silenced and our voices were suppressed,” she asserts.

She adds: “Our reply would have disabused anyone of the idea that we are an ‘ANC front’, and this reply also made it very clear that ANC MPL Cameron Dugmore is only one politician of a number, from different parties, who has supported our proposals. This reply made it clear that Dugmore was not in a position to present a right of reply for Umhlaba Wethu. Ground Up must not pretend to be ignorant by saying that they genuinely thought Dugmore was the right person to answer for us.”

Mahuzie adds that, in her answers to GroundUp (which were included in the articles), Graham stated that she was not the correct person to answer questions about UWD, as she held no official position in the organisation. She says Graham forwarded her the relevant questions to UWD’s representatives. “… those of us who were also victims of violence / human rights violations at the Helen Bowden occupation had a meeting where we wrote a response to Ground Up. As stated above, our response was sent to Ground Up before the deadline for publication, and despite acknowledging receipt of this response, Ground Up ignored it, and completely failed to publish our response to RTC’s false and defamatory statement that our organization is ‘a front for the ANC’.”

She submits that, in the context of all that they have had to suffer from GroundUp, its offer to include a small right of reply for UWD at this stage is not acceptable.

Analysis

I have written the following email to Geffen:

Ms Mahuzie says UWD has supplied GroundUp with a statement prior to publication (in which it denied that it was a front for the ANC).

“I need to know:

  1. Did you receive that statement prior to publication? and
  2. If so, why did you not refer to it?

Geffen replied:

“Not as far as I can tell. The closest is the email I have just forwarded to you which explicitly says ‘Some of us are former members of RTC, some but not all of us are members of Umhlaba Wethu Development, some of us are members of political parties, and some of us are non-aligned’.

“I honestly do not know what statement or email UWD is referring to that they sent me. I have looked through my emails to see if I missed something but I cannot find anything that is addressed to me specifically from UWD. I received two other emails from Bulelwa, which in effect call for my resignation, but they too are not on behalf of UWD.  It’s possible I’ve missed something or forgotten, but I’ve searched high and low through my Inbox, and at this point I’m in the dark.

He says he is willing to publish a comment from UWD in response to RTC’s critique of them. He adds that he would have done so immediately had they contacted GeoundUp after publication. He also notes the Public Advocate has indicated that a right of reply has been offered to UWD. “I’m not sure if/why it has been rejected,” he asserts.

I then sent the following email to Mahuzie on November 18 and 20:

“You say that UWD has sent GroundUp a response to the allegation that it was a front for the ANC prior to publication. The editor, though, says he has no record of such correspondence.

“If you sent the response to him via email, I’ll appreciate it if you can forward me that correspondence. If you have sent it to him in any other way, I also need proof of that.”

I have received no response from her, and I am therefore accepting that there is no such proof (otherwise she would have sent it to me).

Conflict of interest

UWD says GroundUp took the side of the NU and its “grassroots” campaign RTC and failed to report truthfully, accurately and fairly because it was conflicted in this matter.

Mahuzie says Geffen is a friend and ally of Mr Zackie Achmat (the founding trustee of NU), and that GroundUp receives substantial donations from the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), an NGO that was also founded by Achmat. She also notes that SJC is named in NU’s trust deed as one of the “beneficiaries” of NU. She argues: “Geffen and Ground Up are thus related to the personal, professional, and funding networks of NU. We believe that these conflicts of interest explain biased reporting…”

GEFFEN says he has friends and acquaintances throughout the NGO community of South Africa, that includes Achmat. However, he denies that GroundUp has ever received donations from SJC or from NU.

He states: “GroundUp’s institutional donors are listed on its website, including the amounts of money they give.The allegation and complaint is therefore without basis and offensive.”

MAHUZIE says GroundUp’s response that they are “involved with many NGOs” and that this somehow explains away their conflicts of interests, is a weak and inadequate response to UWD’s serious exposure of their conflicts of interest.

She says while she accepts that SJC has not donated money to the publication, there is a significant overlap in donors between GroundUp and NU, and the fact remains that Achmat and Geffen are close friends. As such, she argues, the editor should have recused himself from investigating allegations against NU/RTC.

“We are asserting in no uncertain terms that this resulted in a conflict of interest and bias in Ground Up reporting on the activities of NU/RTC. This is very serious and should be addressed by the Press Ombudsman. Geffen’s friendship, alliance and collusion with Achmat extends to them both being currently implicated in an alleged ‘cover-up’ of sexual harassment at the NGO Equal Education – so these matters have a precedent and are very serious… We regard this conflict of interest, which resulted in biased and misleading reporting, as unethical, and we are aware that it should be regarded as among the most serious transgressions of the press code.”

Analysis

Mahuzie is correct in stating that conflicts of interest is one of the most serious transgressions of the Press Code.

For that very reason, a complainant needs to have concrete evidence to support such a serious statement.

It is noticeable that she bases her argument on stating that:

  • Geffen is a friend and ally of Achmat, the founding trustee of NU;
  • GroundUp receives substantial donations from SJC; and
  • The publication and its editor are (therefore) related to the personal, professional, and funding networks of NU.

In her response to Geffen’s reply to the complaint, Mahuzie says she accepts that GroundUp has not received any money from SJC. This means that her second argument falls away – which, by the way, would have been the strongest argument, had it been true.

With that, though, the third argument also goes down the drain, as the shared relation to the funding networks of NU was a consequence – or at least partly – of the statement that GroundUp has received money from SJC.

This leaves me with only one argument, namely that Geffen and Achmat were friends. That, in itself, cannot be enough ground to support an argument of a conflict of interest.

I therefore conclude that UWD does not have enough evidence to justify this very serious allegation.

Contradictory statements

MAHUZIE says contradictions in the two articles show GroundUp’s lack of consistency with the truth.

She says that, in the:

  • first article, GroundUp stated that she was “part of” UWD; and
  • second story, Graham was quoted as saying that she supported and assisted the campaign – but that she was not a director thereof (which contradicted the first story).

GEFFEN says this apparently refers to Graham’s statement quoted in the second article that she is not a director of UWD, but a supporter and assistant thereof. He says he cannot see the alleged contradiction.

Analysis

I have already ruled that GroundUp was justified in stating that Graham was “part of” UWD. Her own words, as quoted in the second article, did not contradict that.

But, even if the two statements were contradictory, GroundUp would still have been in the clear because the first was a statement, and the second a quote – and the publication was justified to publish them both. The quote did not necessarily have to substantiate the statement.

Conclusion

MAHUZIE says that, because of the targeting, bullying, intimidation and violence by RTC leaders and members, which has been supported and enabled by NU – and now assisted by GroundUp – its members, particularly those at the Helen Bowden occupation, are in fear of their lives. 

GEFFEN says the complainant’s views in the complaint are predicated on its own bias against what can only be viewed as a larger and more established “rival” organisation. He adds that GroundUp accurately and fairly reported on the rivalry between the two disparate entities.

The editor submits:

  • The series of four articles, including the two complained of, were factually accurate;
  • Where GroundUp quoted RTC, it did so verbatim;
  • Where it quoted Dugmore, it did so accurately and to the fullest extent possible;
  • Where it quoted Graham, it did so based on an extensive interview initiated by her and on subsequent written questions and answers and did so accurately;
  • It interviewed one of the directors of the complainant prior to the article being published; and
  • It conducted extensive investigations into the background and facts relating to both sides of the rivalry and accurately reported the findings.

Analysis

Having taken all of the above-mentioned arguments into account, I have no reason to believe that GroundUp has contributed to the tension at Helen Bowden by unfair, inaccurate and biased reporting.

Finding

Graham and the EFF

The sentence in question (which was stated as fact, and not as an allegation) was misleading and false, as it implied that Graham did not work with UWD while she was a member of the EFF – thereby stimulating the narrative that the organisation was a “front for the ANC”. As such, the statement was also not presented in the correct context.

The sentence was therefore 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 departure of the facts whether by … misrepresentation…”

The rest of the complaint 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 breaches of the Press Code as indicated above are all Tier 2 offences.

Sanction

GroundUp is:

  • reprimanded for falsely stating, as fact, that Graham had “left the EFF and now organises with Dugmore and Umhlaba Wethu” (my underlining), implying that she did not work with UWD while she was a member of the EFF, and  thereby stimulating the narrative that the organisation was a “front for the ANC”; and
  • directed to publish a correction in this regard at the top of where the article is carried, mentioning the reprimand as well.

 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;
  • refer to the complaint that was lodged with this office;
  • end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”;
  • be published with the logo of the Press Council (attached);
  • be prepared by the publication and be approved by me; and
  • stay there for as long as the article itself is carried.

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