Don Mkhwanazi vs. Sunday Times


Mon, Dec 24, 2012

 

Ruling by the Deputy Press Ombudsman

December 24, 2012

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Strauss Daly Attorneys, for Mr Don Mkhwanazi, and the Sunday Times newspaper.

Complaint

Mr Don Mkhwanazi complains about a story in the Sunday Times on 17 June 2012 and headlined ‘Connected’ Don gets deal.

Mkhwanazi complains that the:

·         headline falsely stated that he was awarded a tender;

·         story wrongly insinuated that there was a corrupt relationship between himself and President Jacob Zuma; and

·         journalist neglected to report his response to questions

The complaint came late, but that was due to Mkhwanazi trying to negotiate with the newspaper.

Analysis

The story, written by Matthew Savides, said that a company called Ikhono Communications CC, linked to “Zuma’s close friend and financial backer, Don Mkhwanazi, has emerged as the only bidder for a R14.6m tender from the eThekwini municipality in Durban”. It also stated that this company was awarded this tender in March (2012).

Awarded a tender

The story said that a company close to Mkhwanazi was the only bidder for a R14.6-million tender from the eThekwini municipality in Durban and that “the contract was awarded in March” (2012). The headline stated that he got the deal.

Mkhwanazi denies that he got the contract and asserts that he has nothing to do with the company that got the deal. However, he does say that his wife owned this company (which explains the words “a company close to Mkhwanazi”).

Sunday Times published a correction on July 1 on page 2 – “where we habitually publish corrections and where readers are accustomed to seeing them”. It read: “On June 17, we published a story about Ikhono Communications, an events management company which had emerged as the only bidder for a R14.6-million tender by the eThekwini municipality, under the headline “ ‘Connected’ Don gets deal. The company is owned by Zodwa Msimang, who is married to Don Mkhwanazi, not by Mkhwanazi, as the headline implies.”

Mkhwanazi is not satisfied with this correction “as it was not given the same prominence as the article in question”. He also argues that this correction only added salt to the wound as it further inferred that his wife received government favours due to alleged improper connections with Zuma (I’ll deal with this aspect immediately hereunder).

These are my considerations:

·         Only the headline was at fault, as the story itself did not state that the contract was awarded to Mkhwanazi;

·         It is always difficult to give the same prominence to a small correction such as this one;

·         The correction itself merely stated the truth and did not directly imply in any way a corrupt relationship; and

·         However, the correction should be read in conjunction with the original story, and therefore a corrupt relationship between Msimang and Zuma may have been suggested – which is the next part of the complaint that I’ll deal with straight away.

Corrupt relationship

Mkhwanazi complains that the story suggested that there was a corrupt relationship between himself and Zuma (and after the correction, also between his wife and Zuma) which resulted in the awarding of a government tender. He adds that the reporter’s allegations about this relationship were misplaced and speculative.

Sunday Times denies that it insinuated or suggested that there had been a corrupt relationship between himself and Zuma. “We made no such ‘bold statement’.”

Firstly, let me take a closer look at the headline. Sunday Times indeed corrected the incorrect statement that the tender was awarded to Mkhwanazi – the “Don gets deal” part of the headline (which was commendable, of course). However, it did not say anything about the word “connected” in the headline. This means that the implication that he (or afterwards his wife, for that matter) got the contract because of “connections” with Zuma still lingered on.

 

However, the headline put the word “connected” in inverted commas, suggesting that it attributed the word to a source and not stating it as fact.

The story also did not state it as fact that Ikhono Communications got the contract because of a “connection” with Zuma. It quoted a source to this effect, yes (which was its right to do) – but it never stated it as fact.

Not reporting Mkhwanazi’s response

Mkhwanazi complains that the story did not report his response to questions that Savides posed to him.

Amongst other things, he denied that he had:

·         anything to do with Ikhono tenders and that he had personally won the tender in question; and

·         a corrupt relationship with Zuma.

However, the story did report these denials.

Finding

Awarded a tender

I am satisfied that Sunday Times adequately addressed the mistake as far as this specific part of the complaint is concerned. This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Corrupt relationship

Neither the story nor the headline stated it as fact that Mkhwanazi had a corrupt relationship with Zuma. This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Not reporting Mkhwanazi’s response

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

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