Haroon Lorgat vs. Sunday Times


Tue, Feb 6, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

6 February 2018

 

PARTICULARS

 

Complainant

 

 

Mr Haroon Lorgat, former CEO of Cricket South Africa (CSA)

 

 

Publication

 

Sunday Times

 

 

Date of article

 

23 December 2017

 

 

Headline

 

How the year turned sour for former Cricket SA chief Haroon Lorgat

 

 

Author of article

 

 

Khanyiso Tshwaku

 

Respondent

 

Susan Smuts, internal ombud of Sunday Times

 

Complaint                                            

Lorgat complains that the following statements in the article were false and have impacted him negatively “during a sensitive period”:

·         “Due to his secretive handling of the organising of the postponed T20GL, Lorgat’s exit settlement, part of his package after leaving CSA at the end of September, still hangs in the balance”;

·         “But it is understood that his settlement was linked to how much information he gives with regard to the tournament’s failed organisation”;

·         “The former International Cricket Council CEO left CSA with no option but to move the recently completed Ram Slam T20 Challenge forward into the slot that was originally intended for the T20GL”; and

·         “Lorgat should have made every attempt to keep his board up to date with the organisation of the tournament”.

He also complains that the reporter did not give him a right of reply, questions the journalist’s motive, and calls the reportage an unjustifiable attack on his integrity, reputation and credibility.

The text

The article says that, while ideally 2017 should have been a crowning year for Lorgat in that the T20 Global League should have come to a glittering conclusion, it did not materialise.

“Due to his secretive handling of the organising of the postponed T20GL, Lorgat’s exit settlement, part of his package after leaving CSA at the end of September, still hangs in the balance,” the story continues.

It also states that Lorgat has left CSE with no option but to move the Ram Slam T20 Challenge forward into the slot that was originally intended for the T20GL.

CSA president Chris Nenzani reportedly said the organisation was in a healthy financial position after postponing the T20GL and that no irregularities or financial mismanagement had been found.

The article goes on to say it was understood that Lorgat’s settlement had been linked to how much, or rather how little, information he had given with regard to the tournament’s failed organisation.

The article ends by stating, “Lorgat should have made every attempt to keep his board up to date with the organisation of the tournament and, in turn, the board should have held him accountable at every turn before the ugly events played out at the end of September.”

The arguments; analysis

“Due to his secretive handling of the organising of the postponed T20GL, Lorgat’s exit settlement, part of his package after leaving CSA at the end of September, still hangs in the balance”

Lorgat denies that there was any “secretive handling” of the matter – in fact, he says, a team of highly skilled and experienced professionals, supported by external parties with expertise, had worked on the project right from its inception (January 2016), and there had been regular reports, oral and written, made to all relevant parties (as the CSA media statement dated 21 July 2017 confirms). He adds that there was even briefing sessions held with the media from time to time.

He questions Tshwaku’s intention or motive, as the reporter did not provide any evidence to any specific matter to justify his statement.

He also challenges the statement that his exit settlement “still hangs in the balance”, and submits that this statement is not only false, but also damaging to him.

Smuts says it became clear at a media briefing in December CSA’s acting chief executive officer Thabang Moroe believed that Lorgat needed to shed light on the T20GL tournament, and that information that should have been forthcoming did not materialise. That, she submits, was one of the reasons the article referred to Lorgat’s “secretive handling” of the matter.

She adds that, until Lorgat’s settlement is concluded, it does hang in the balance. “It is noteworthy that he left CSA at the end of September and that his settlement has not yet been concluded,” she states.

Lorgat replies his settlement discussion was delayed because of the internal review which CSA had decided to embark upon. He adds, “Following conclusion of the review, CSA continued their settlement negotiations with me. Incidentally, on 21 December 2017, CSA had issued a media release stating that ‘we have found no irregularities or financial mismanagement’.”

Analysis

‘Secretive handling’

Let me cut to the chase: Tshwaku has turned an allegation – if it was that – into fact.

The problems are twofold:

·         I accept Moroe believed that Lorgat needed to shed more light on the T20GL tournament, but I have no evidence that he ever used the words in question, or even something to that effect – it is one thing to say that one has not provided enough information, and quite another to attach a motive to it (such as “secretive handling”); this means the statement probably was the journalist’s interpretation of what Moroe had said; and

·         Even if Moroe did use those words, or if his choice of words could have been interpreted in that way, or even if it might have been the correct interpretation, it still was Moroe’s opinion, and nothing more than that – which is why the reporter should not have stated Lorgat’s “secretive handling” of the matter as fact, as he did.

In other words, the statement in question should have been attributed to Moroe. Stating an opinion as fact is misleading – and indeed unfair.

‘Hangs in the balance’

In his response to Smuts’s reply, Lorgat himself admits that his settlement discussion was delayed – even after he has initially complained that this statement was false.

It does not matter why the settlement was delayed – that mere fact that it was, justified the use of the words “hangs in the balance”.

“But it is understood that his settlement was linked to how much information he gives with regard to the tournament’s failed organisation”

Lorgat complains that this statement is patently false – had Tshwaku contacted him in this regard, he says, he would have clarified the reporter’s incorrect understanding of this matter and provided him with the relevant facts.

Smuts says two board members told the reporter that they were not happy with the lack of information they were receiving in terms of the organisation of the tournament. “One of our sources told our reporter that the settlement was linked to how much information Mr Lorgat brought to the board,” she says. She adds that the journalist asked CSA’s spokesman, Altaaf Kazi, on December 21 (after a board meeting) whether Lorgat’s settlement had been paid, and he said it had not. “We [therefore] submit that it was fair and accurate to report the way we did,” she concludes.

Lorgat replies there was and still is no link between his settlement and how much information he brought to the board. This fact, he says, can be confirmed with CSA.

He adds that the two board members referred to in Smuts’s response might not have been fully updated by the 4-person board member group to whom he had regularly reported progress to, both in writing and on tele-conference calls. 

Analysis

The testimony of two board members surely was enough justification for Sunday Times to have made this statement – especially because, this time, it was not stated as fact, but as an opinion. The words “it is understood” clearly refers to such an opinion. If the views of two members of the board were wrong, it was not the newspaper’s fault, and it should not be blamed for being the messenger.

“The former International Cricket Council CEO left CSA with no option but to move the recently completed Ram Slam T20 Challenge forward into the slot that was originally intended for the T20GL”

Lorgat calls this statement a “bold and serious assumption” which, he says, was not supported by facts or verified with him – which again negatively impacts on him on a personal level.

Smuts says Lorgat was the CEO and lead organiser of the tournament. This means, she argues, that it was his responsibility to secure a broadcaster for the event – which he had failed to do before he left CSA on September 28. She says the event then had to be moved from early November, when it was due to take place. “We [therefore] submit our article was fair and accurate in this regard too,” she says.


Analysis

Lorgat complains that this statement was not supported by facts – but in the face of the fact that he himself does not provide any evidence to the contrary, he has given me no reason to find for him on this part of his complaint.

“Lorgat should have made every attempt to keep his board up to date with the organisation of the tournament”

Lorgat complains that the way Tshwaku reported this statement makes him believe that the journalist carries a motive to portray him in a negative light. He says that this statement has no evidence to back it up. “On the contrary and in fact, I have at every CSA board meeting since January 2016 provided update reports on the T20GL progress and these are reflected in the Board meeting papers and the Board minutes. As mentioned above, the Board had even acknowledged its satisfaction publicly in a press release dated 21 July 2017 … which the reporter would have received,” he adds.

Smuts says the press statement dated 21 July 2017, submitted by Lorgat, indeed included the board’s satisfaction with the progress – but that was the situation up to that point. “Clearly, by the time of the media briefing in October, the board’s attitude had changed,” she argues.


Analysis

Tswaku based the sentence on the allegation that Lorgat did not adequately inform the board about the organisation for the tournament. That, in itself, was justified comment, given what Moroe had said at the media briefing in December last year – even if Lorgat disagrees with that statement.

However, then came the following sentences: “Clearly there’s someone who won’t get a Christmas bonus and it’s not CSA board members. There are lessons to be taken from this episode, with one being transparency in corporate matters.”

The issue is the use of the word “transparency”. As I have stated above, it is one thing to say that one has not provided enough information, and quite another to attach a motive to it (such as “secretive handling” – and now, in this case, a lack of “transparency”). A lack of transparency carries the deadly connotation of hiding something for one’s own benefit.

I do not believe that Tshwaku had evidence to justify the use of this word. If he had such evidence, he did not report it, and neither did he supply me with such.

No right of reply

Lorgat complains that the reporter did not give him a right of reply, despite him always having practiced an open relationship with media during his tenure at CSA – including Tshwaku himself. He questions the journalist’s motive and calls the reportage an unjustifiable attack on his integrity, reputation and credibility.

Smuts replies that the article was a wrap of Lorgat’s year at CSA, and traversed information already in the public domain – most pertinently a media briefing at which Moroe spoke. “It was accordingly not necessary to seek comment from Mr Lorgat. We point out that he has never objected to or contested the information in the news report following the media briefing,” she argues.

She adds that the newspaper is willing to consider publishing a brief response from Lorgat, which may include an update on his settlement. She adds, “We also invite him to share the board minutes with us.”

Lorgat maintains that he has been “severely prejudiced” by not having been given the opportunity to rectify or to make comment to the journalist before the article was published. He argues that he was the central figure in the story and that seeking comment from CSA’s spokesman was not sufficient – he himself should have had the opportunity to respond to the “unfounded remarks” made by Moroe.

He also replies that:

·         “publishing a brief response” would at this stage not remedy the prejudice that was caused to him and adds, “I am also not willing to respond in public to the Sunday Times”; and

·         the newspaper should know that he is not in possession of CSA board minutes and therefore cannot “share” those documents with the publication.

Analysis

Tshwaku did indeed not have to ask Lorgat for comment on issues that were in the public domain, as Smuts rightly argues.

However, it was unfair to report allegations which were in the public domain as fact. In this case, the one mistake has led to another – having stated as fact (not as an allegation) that Lorgat has “secretively” handled the matter, and alleging that he was not transparent, he should have had an opportunity to reply to those accusations.

The fact that he has never objected to or contested the information in the news report following the media briefing signifies nothing.

Given that those two statements were reported as fact, and also because Lorgat was not given a right of reply to them, the reportage could only have unfairly and probably also unnecessarily tarnished his dignity and reputation.

However, I have not enough evidence to accuse Tswaku of having had a “motive”, as Lorgat does.

Finding

“Due to his secretive handling of the organising of the postponed T20GL, Lorgat’s exit settlement, part of his package after leaving CSA at the end of September, still hangs in the balance”

The statement with regards to Lorgat’s “secretive handling” of the tournament unfairly turned an allegation into a fact. This was in breach of the following sections of the Code:

·         1.1: “The media shall take care to report the news … fairly”; and

·         1.3: “Only what may reasonably be true, having regard to the sources of the news, may be presented as fact, and such facts shall be published fairly with reasonable regard to context and importance. Where a report is not based on facts or is founded on opinion, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly.”

The complaint with regards to the statement that Lorgat’s exit settlement “still hangs in the balance” is dismissed.

“But it is understood that his settlement was linked to how much information he gives with regard to the tournament’s failed organisation”

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

“The former International Cricket Council CEO left CSA with no option but to move the recently completed Ram Slam T20 Challenge forward into the slot that was originally intended for the T20GL”

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

“Lorgat should have made every attempt to keep his board up to date with the organisation of the tournament”

The complaint about this sentence is dismissed.

However, accusing Lorgat of a lack of transparency was not fair, as it carried the message that he did not disclose some information to protect himself – without any proper evidence to this effect.

This was in breach of the following the same sections of the Press Code as stated above.

No right of reply

Sunday Times was not obligated to ask Lorgat for comment on issues which were in the public domain. That part of the complaint is therefore dismissed.

However, Tshwaku turned two allegations into fact (as described above) – and it was unfair not to have given Lorgat an opportunity to respond to those specific allegations. This was in breach of Section 1.8 of the Press Code which states, “The media shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…”

Those two instances were also in breach of Section 3.3 of the Code which says, “The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation.”

The complaint that the journalist had a “motive” behind his reportage 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

Sunday Times is directed to apologise to Lorgat for:

·         unfairly stating, as fact, that he had:

o   “secretively” handled the organisation of the postponed T20GL; and

o   not been “transparent” in this regard;

·         not giving him a right of reply to those statements; and

·         not exercising care and consideration in matters involving his dignity and reputation.

The newspaper is requested to publish the apology at the top of the page where the offending story was published, with a headline containing the words “apology” or “apologises”, and “Lorgat”; and also at the top of the online page (if indeed the story appeared online 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”; and

·     be prepared by the publication and be 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