Judge Zulman's Ruling on the Appeal Hearing - Pearl Luthuli vs Sowetan

Wed, Feb 29, 2012

Pearl Luthuli                              Complainant 

Avusa Limited                                     Sowetan/ First Respondent
Gertrude Makhafola                           The Reporter/Second Respondent
Ruling of Press Appeal Panel
Press Ombudsman’s Finding
The headline did not reflect the contents of the report and was therefore in breach of Section 5.1 of the Press Code.
Press Appeal Panel Finding
The respondents argue that “the meaning of the headline is therefore that more compromising and embarrassing information about the SABC has been publically disclosed”.
The appeal panel agrees with the Ombudsman’s interpretation that the headline means, “it was the broadcaster that was exposing more dirty linen”.
The headline was NOT A “reasonable reflection of the contents of the report”.
Therefore, the Sowetan was indeed in breach of Section 5.1 of the code.
Press Ombudsman’s Findings
The panel finds that it was not reasonable for the journalist to believe that the information provided to the Second Respondent by her sources was true. Simple tests that the panel applied raised questions about the credibility of the sources. Further investigation should have been made before the story was published.
The panel finds that Sowetan is in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:
1.4 - Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified – on five counts in that it did verify the accuracy of allegations that:
  • SABC Board chairperson Khanyisile Mkhonza and her deputy Christine Qunta were “pushing for the appointment of Luthuli as chief operating officer” of the SABC;
  • Luthuli faced “an internal investigation into mismanagement of funds”;
  • Luthuli did not know anything;
  • Staff morale in Luthuli’s department was low;
  • Luthuli did not have a good working relationship with her boss, Charlotte Mampane.
5.1 – Headlines…shall give a reasonable reflection of the content of the report – in that the headline Broadcaster airs more dirty linen did not reflect the contents of the report.
Press Appeal Panel Finding
The respondents argue that journalists “should be permitted a great degree of discretion concerning the credibility of their sources”. True.
However, these sources got a few facts wrong – claiming a contract for the 2006 Golden Plumes Awards was for the Metro Awards, and about Luthuli being “pushed” for a job she had not applied for.
Even the affidavit presented to the Appeals Panel by the respondent, in the matter between Mvuso Mbebe and the Chairperson of the SABC Board and others, shows that the board was unanimous that Mbebe was the preferred candidate.
There is n o evidence, therefore, that Board Chairperson Khanyisile Mkhonza and her deputy Christine Qunta were “pushing for the appointment of Luthuli as chief operating officer”.
This speaks to the sources’ unreliability.
On the basis of available information at the time, the Sowetan should not have published the article with the unverified allegations. It was hasty in publishing, and was indeed in breach of the Press Code 1.4.
Ombudsman’s Sanction
The Sowetan is ordered to publish an abbreviated version of these findings and an apology to Pearl Luthuli. The Ombudsman’s office will provide the abbreviated ruling and the apology to be published by the newspaper.
Press Appeal Panel Finding
The respondents accept that the Sowetan report is not accurate. However, the Appeal Panel finds the Ombudsman’s sanction “too harsh”.
The Appeals Panel upholds the Ombudsman’s ruling that Sowetan publish these findings, and an apology to Luthuli.
Dated at Johannesburg this the 8th day of November 2008-11-08
RH Zulman          Chairperson
Lizeka Mda          Press Representative
Ronnie Taurog     Public Representative