Muji Mngadi vs. Sunday Times


Thu, Oct 11, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

10 October 2018

Particulars

Lodged by: Mr Muji Mngadi, Director: Rural Development and Agrarian Reform

Date of article: 5 August 2018

Headline: Holy cow! – R100m scandal points to Jacob Zuma stocking his kraals for years with cattle bought for poor farmers

Page:

Online: Yes

Author of article: Bongani Fuzile

Respondent: Susan Smuts, internal ombud

Complaint                                            

Mngadi complains the:

  • journalist reported that some cattle meant for the poor were diverted to him, without giving him a right of reply to that allegation; and
  • reportage has tarnished his reputation, with serious negative implications for his future career.

The text

The article was about cows worth millions of rands, bought with public money and meant to benefit emerging Eastern Cape farmers, that were instead dished out to former Pres Jacob Zuma, ANC politicians and Eastern Cape royalty.

The journalist quoted a source as saying: “… I can confirm that I did give Jacob Zuma cattle for him to give to people including [to] … rural development and agrarian reform director Muji Mngadi.”

Lower down the story stated: “Neither Mngadi nor Magaya responded to calls or text messages.”

The arguments

Mngadi denies that he has received a text message from the journalist, as reported in the article. He also points out that he no longer worked for his former employer where the alleged misconduct was reportedly taking place, which made it even more necessary for the reporter to contact him for comment.

He denies ever having either received or take cattle from any sphere of government

Smuts says the journalist tried to call Mngadi on 076 141 5120, but to no avail. He then sent him a text message (at 14:15 on Friday, August 3) reading: “Hi Mr Mngadi, urgently call me, Bongani Fuzile at Sunday Times newspaper. It’s about cattle you donated to Nkandla in KwaZulu Natal. Allegations are that you were told to do so by Mr Capa. Urgently call us now for our story we are working for. Please call us back today before 3pm. Regards”.

She says Mngadi did not respond to this request.

The internal ombud also notes the number used for Mngadi was the same one included in his complaint. “His assertion that he did not receive the text message is therefore baffling,” she argues.

Smuts says the newspaper’s sources were well-informed, and adds that the newspaper is willing to reflect that Mngadi has since denied receiving or taking cattle from any sphere of government.

Mngadi replies it was not right for the newspaper to contact him on August 3 for a story to be published on August 5.

He notes that the newspaper did not provide any proof that the journalist did send a text message to him.

He also says the content of the alleged text message differed from what was published. The story quoted a source as saying he gave cattle to Zuma for him to give to people, including himself.  

The “text message”, on the other hand, allegedly stated it was about cattle he had donated to Nkandla in KwaZulu Natal. “These are two different messages,” he says.

Analysis

I have verified that the journalist did send Mngadi the text message on August 3 (at 14:15), as informed by Smuts.

However, the story quoted a source to the effect that Mngadi had received cattle, with the implication that that was for his own enrichment, while the text message had been about cattle that he had donated (and allegedly had been told to do so).

Those are two quite different matters.

Given the context, I accept that Mngadi had to receive cattle first before he could donate them, but still. I believe the reasonable reader would have understood the story insinuated that he had received cattle for his own enrichment – while the journalist did not ask him about that insinuation.

It is also noticeable that the text message did not mention anything about cattle that had been earmarked for the poor – it merely asked about Mngadi’s alleged “donation” of cattle.

I therefore conclude that:

  • the journalist did not give Mngadi a right of reply to the allegation that some cattle meant for the poor were diverted to him, while insinuating in the story that he had unduly benefitted from that; and
  • therefore, there was a real possibility that the story had unnecessarily tarnished his reputation.

Finding

Sunday Times is in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

  • 1.8: “The media shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…”; and
  • 3.3: “The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation…”

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 Mngadi for:

  • not giving him a right of reply to the allegation that some cattle meant for the poor were diverted to him, insinuating that he had unduly benefitted from that; and
  • possibly unnecessarily tarnishing his reputation.

The newspaper is directed to give Mngadi a right of reply to the above-mentioned allegation, and to incorporate his reply (if indeed he still wants to do so) in the text which is to be published.

The newspaper is directed to publish:

  • the apology, as outlined directly above:
  • at the top of the same page on which the offending article was published, with a headline containing the words “apology” or “apologises”, and “Mngadi”; and
  • online, also at the top of the offending story.

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); 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