Celi Makhoba vs. The Witness


Tue, Nov 13, 2012

 

Ruling by the Deputy Press Ombudsman

November 13, 2012

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Celi Makhoba.

Complaint

Mr Celi Makhoba complains about a story in The Witness on 28 June 2012 and headlined Official’s suspension casts doubt on Comrades doping tests.

Makhba complains that:

·         the newspaper defamed him;

·         he did not test Ludwick Mamabolo; and

·         he was not given an opportunity to give his side of the story.

Analysis

The story, written by Norrie Williamson, said that Makhoba, a doping control officer who was involved in the Comrades Marathon, had been suspended at a KwaZulu Natal Athletics executive meeting from athletics activities – and that a disciplinary inquiry on allegations that he submitted claims for ghost officials who included friends and family was pending. The article also said that Comrades winner Ludwick Mamabolo had tested positive for a banned stimulant, creating the impression of a link between the suspension and the doping tests.

The intro read: “The integrity of the anti-doping test in KwaZulu-Natal, including those conducted at the Comrades, have been thrown into question.”

Defamed

Makhoba complains that the story tries to link two unrelated issues, casting doubt on him and his organisation. These issues are his suspension from athletics on allegations of fraud, and anti-doping tests (including those conducted at the Comrades). He argues that a link between these two boils down to defamation.

He says: “By saying my suspension has impacted on the integrity (of the anti-doping results), the newspaper implies I tested the mentioned athletes and I might have been negligent to an extent that I have brought into disrepute such a reputable sport and marathon.”

He adds that the reporter said that his suspension for fraud impacted on the results of Mamabolo’s tests.

Here is the situation: Makhoba was suspended at a KZN Athletics executive meeting, but head of the SA Institute for Drug-free Sport (Saids) Khalid Galant said that he was not aware of this suspension. The story then quoted Galant as saying that any allegation of this nature would impact on the integrity of the testing process.

That is an understandable reaction, and the newspaper surely was justified in reporting that. (The fact that the newspaper did not also ask Makhoba for comment is another matter that I shall address below.)

I do not agree with Makhobo that the matters of his suspension and the anti-doping tests are unrelated – he was suspended from all athletics activities, and surely this was an athletics-related activity. Therefore, I cannot come to a conclusion that the story defamed him.

In other words, the issue in the story was not to imply that Makhoba had cheated with anti-drug tests or that he had been negligent, but to state that a suspended official took part in the testing process. The mere fact that this happened, opened up questions regarding the credibility of the testings – according to Galant, whom the newspaper merely quoted.

Testing Mamabolo

Makhoba denies that he tested Mamabolo.

That may be so, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. However, the story does not say that he tested Mamabolo – it merely mentioned that Mamabolo had tested positive for a banned stimulant.

Not asked for comment

Makhoba complains that the newspaper did not contact him for comment. He also says that it was not enough to contact his boss (Galant), as the latter spoke on behalf of the organisation and not on his behalf.

The newspaper admits that the reporter did not contact Makhoba for comment – as it should have.

Finding

Defamed

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Testing Mamabolo

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Not asked for comment

The newspaper should have, but did not ask Makhoba for comment. This is in breach of Art. 1.5 of the Press Code that states: “A publication should seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication…”

Sanction

The Witness is reprimanded for not asking Makhoba for comment and is directed to publish his opinion on this matter. This should be accompanied with a summary of the finding, ending off with the words “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.” The text should be approved by this office prior to publication.

Appeal

Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Deputy Press Ombudsman