North West Gambling Board vs City Press


Wed, Jun 10, 2020

 

Particulars

Complaint number: 7716

Lodged by: Mr Jacob Montshioa, Legal Services Manager (North West Gambling Board); acting CEO at the time of publication

Date of article: 28 January 2020

Headline: Bribery allegations at North West Gambling Board

Online: Yes

Author of article: Poloko Tau

Respondent: Dumisane Lubisi, editor.

  1. Complaint                                            

1.1 The North West Gambling Board (NWGB) complains the:

  • article was aimed at pursuing a narrative that the NWGB decided to not renew, or suspend, Goldrush’s licenses because the latter refused to pay “bribes” – creating the impression that it was corrupt and that it was failing to deal with allegations of bribery;
  • article is one-sided, unfair, unverified and not balanced in that the journalist failed to fairly and accurately articulate that the:
    • Board had requested Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr attorneys to submit evidentiary proof regarding the allegation of bribery and that a criminal case had been opened against its investigator and licensing manager, Mr Morongoa Moss, and deputy chairperson Lerato Seepe (neither of which happened);
    • Court judgment, which followed the decision of the Board not to renew the Goldrush licenses, was exculpation that Goldrush was not a victim in this whole matter, and that the decision taken by the Board not to renew its license was the correct one;
    • Board’s investigation report into the matter; and
  • journalist misleadingly treated a draft report as final.

1.2 The Board also complains that the:

  • newspaper published the report on the internet without giving the Board an opportunity to respond to it – thereby tarnishing the dignity of those who serve on the Board, its directors and its officials; and
  • story incorrectly stated that Goldrush’s licence was not renewed in January 2019.

1.3 The NWGB says its reputation, as well as those of the Board and its members, was deliberately tarnished and asks for an apology and a correction.

1.4 The sections of the Press Code the complainant refers to are:

  • 1.1: “The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly;
  • 1.2: “The media shall present news in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization”;
  • 1.3: “The media shall present only what may reasonably be true as fact; opinions, allegations, rumours or suppositions shall be presented clearly as such”;
  • 1.7: “The media shall verify the accuracy of doubtful information, if practicable; if not, this shall be stated”; and
  • 1.9: “The media shall state where a report is based on limited information, and supplement it once new information becomes available.”
  1. The text

2.1 The article was about the allegation by Goldrush Group, contained in a letter to the North West Premier, that a member of the NWGB had tried to solicit a bribe from the company. Tau wrote that the provincial government had yet to implement “recommendations of a damning forensic report” on that organisation. That report was said to have revealed that millions of rands had been “squandered through misconduct, fraud and gross negligence by board members”.

2.2 Goldrush, a gambling operating company whose licence was suspended by the Board, reportedly asked Premier Job Mokgoro to launch a probe into the allegation that a Board member had asked one of its officials for a bribe. Goldrush reportedly believed its licence was not renewed because it refused to pay a bribe.

  1. The arguments

3.1 Corrupt; failing to act

3.1.1 Mr Jacob Montshioa complains the article was aimed at pursuing a narrative to create the impression that the NWGB was corrupt and that it was failing to deal with allegations of bribery.

3.1.2 Lubisi says neither Montshioa nor the NWGB was a subject of critical reporting in the story – he says it referred to a specific individual NWGB member soliciting bribes, not implicating the entire Board. “Nowhere in the article is Mr Montshioa accused or alleged to have been party to any of the alleged bribery as alleged by Goldrush Group in its letter to the Premier,” he says.

3.1.3 He also denies the article suggested that the Board had been failing to deal with allegations of bribery – it referred to what the Board had done, its desire to probe the allegations, and also its difficulties to do so in the absence of any proof that Goldrush had been asked to provide.

3.1.4 The editor refers to a story in City Press in December last year, which was based on a draft forensic report which was commissioned to investigate any wrongdoing at the NW Gambling  Board. That article said the Premier’s office told the newspaper that he had received the report and had directed authorities to act on its recommendations. “At best, Mr Montshioa is confirming that the draft forensic report has not been acted on since the Premier’s directive that its recommendations be implemented. In December, the Premier was clear as to what ought to be done with the report, whether in its draft state or not. Action was expected, at least from the Premier …”

3.1.5 Montshioa replies that the implicated Board member denied ever trying to solicit a bribe from Goldrush.

3.1.6 He adds that Goldrush has

to date and even at the time of running of the story, failed to produce any evidentiary proof to substantiate its allegation that a board member solicited a bribe, but despite this City Press deemed it prudent to publish such spurious allegations that were not backed by any tangible facts.

3.1.7 Montshioa argues that failure by Goldrush to substantiate its allegations should have been reason enough for City Press not to have published such spurious allegations.

Analysis

3.1.8 The central issue is the question of whether the article was aimed at pursuing a narrative to create the impression that the NWGB was corrupt and that it was failing to deal with allegations of bribery.

3.1.9 Lubisi is correct in that the story only referred to a specific individual NWGB member. Nowhere in the article was it either said or implied that the Board, or Montshioa, was under suspicion.

3.1.10 The only exception is this sentence: “The report recommended that, among other things, the board be dissolved following some dubious decisions as well as excessive claims submitted by its members – some of whose appointments were questioned.” I shall deal with this specific issue below (under sub-section 3.3 – “Draft report”).

3.1.11 Montshioa’s response to Lubisi should be rejected. The fact that the implicated person denies the allegation does not mean that City Press should not publish the allegation – it was in the public interest to do so. It also does not call for any “evidentiary proof” to substantiate the allegation – the newspaper is not a court of law.

  1. Information omitted

3.2.1 Montshioa complains the article was one-sided, unfair, unverified and not balanced in that the journalist failed to fairly and accurately articulate that the:

  • Board had requested Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr attorneys to submit evidentiary proof regarding the allegation of bribery, and that a criminal case had been opened against Moss and Seepe – the proof of which was not forthcoming;
  • Court judgment, which followed the decision of the Board not to renew the Goldrush licenses, was exculpation that Goldrush was not a victim in this whole matter, and that the decision taken by the Board was the correct one; and
  • Board’s investigation report into the matter. “The information was provided to rebut allegations that the Board did not renew or suspend the licenses of Goldrush as the latter refused to pay the so-called bribes.

3.2.2 Lubisi says the story was accurate, and both parties were quoted properly, Montshioa included. He adds the newspaper took steps to ensure that its reportage was reasonable and not to just pass judgment on those accused of having allegedly solicited a bribe from the company.

3.2.3 The editor emphasizes the story focused on the allegations of bribery as contained in the letter written to the Premier. He says it was explained summarily that Goldrush and the NWGB “has been locked in a wrangle with the gambling board following the non-renewal and later suspension of its licenses…” and how this was linked to the allegations of bribery. “The story was treading on allegations on bribery only and any other links to the latter and not the legal wrangle between the two parties,” he argues.

3.2.4 For that reason, he argues, it would be unfair to expect the story to now divert from the issue at hand and explain now in full the court judgments – which are in no way the main subject of the story. Besides, “While Goldrush said their licence was not renewed and followed suspension because they refused to pay any bribery the NW Gaming Board’s version on this was properly captured as it reflected that Goldrush license was suspended due to non-compliance.”

3.2.5 Lubisi refers to the article where it stated: “Montshioa said their attorneys were requested to ‘submit evidentiary proof’ which he said they were yet to receive and ‘therefore delaying the finalization of the investigation’. Montshioa added: ‘He who alleges must prove … this is a trite principle’. He explained that they have promised to investigate the allegations but could not due to lack of evidence. Goldrush said in response: ‘No additional documents have been submitted to the board but there is sufficient information that has been provided to the board for it to investigate’.

3.2.6 And also: “ ‘My (Seepe’s) meeting with Thejane took place at his request even after their licenses were not renewed … so how could I even help them or ask for a bribe for that matter and why did they not report my bribe request to relevant authorities?’, she asked.”

3.2.7 Montshioa replies the Board never intended for City Press to unpack the full court judgement – it merely wanted to demonstrate that the allegations by Goldrush pertaining to non-renewal of licences were nothing but vexatious as the:

  • renewal of licences only happened in March and not January; and
  • reasons for non-renewal have nothing to do with the so-called solicitation of a bribe.

Analysis

3.2.8 Firstly, while the story did not mention Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr attorneys by name, it did refer to them as follows: “Montshioa said their attorneys were requested to ‘submit evidentiary proof’ which he said they were yet to receive and ‘therefore delaying the finalization of the investigation’.”

3.2.9 I also agree with Lubisi in that the court judgment was not the focus of the story – and neither was the Board’s investigation report.

3.2.10 While I understand Montshioa’s concern that readers might have linked the reason for the non-renewal of Goldrush’s license to the allegation of bribery (the two issues were reported within the same context), I also take into account that Tau reported: “Goldrush’s operator licenses were not renewed … and later suspended … for non-compliance on shareholding…”

3.3 Draft report

3.3.1 Montshioa complains the “damning forensic report” referred to in the article was only a draft report. By not mentioning this, the story misrepresented the matter and fed into the narrative of an organisation that was failing to promote good governance, he argues.

3.3.2 He adds that the draft report was never formally adopted by those who commissioned it, and says that the journalist should have checked the status of the document before relying on it as a source.

3.3.3 Lubisi says the report was referred to as “draft report” in the newspaper’s previous story on the NWGB published in December 2019, which exhibits our understanding that this is not a final report. He adds that the article did not say the report was “final”.

3.3.4 “While this report was not finalised, there was an expectation from the Premier that the recommendations of the draft report should be implemented and hence he told City Press, in December already, that he has referred it to authorities to act on it,” he says.

3.3.5 The editor says Montshioa is reading the story out of context, leading him to complain that the omission and misrepresentation of the “draft forensic report” fed into the narrative of an organisation that was failing to promote good governance. The Premier already in December 2019 wanted to see action taken based on the draft report’s recommendations. To say the Premier’s desires have not been met by the NW Gaming Board could well mean what Mr Montshioa complains about, but City Press was careful not to draw such conclusions. In this report, while we do not say it is draft report, we equally did not say a final report either.

3.3.6 With reference to the Premier’s direction to authorities to act on the draft report’s recommendations, Lubisi says Montshioa’s sudden questioning of the status of the report is misplaced and should not be considered as a ground to complain.

3.3.7 Montshioa replies that City Press should know that a draft report has no legal standing, yet the newspaper reported on the draft report as if it were the gospel truth – thereby misleading members of the public about its status.

3.3.8 Montshioa says the drafters of the report (Gobodo Forensic and Investigation) have explicitly indicated that the document was for discussion purpose only – yet City Press wants to see the recommendations implemented. He cites the following sentence from the story:“The allegations of bribe solicitation have emerged as the provincial government is yet to implement recommendations of a damning forensic report on the same organisation.”

Analysis

3.3.9 The report in question undoubtedly was in draft form. Gobodo Forensic and Investigation explicitly stated in a letter, dated 19 August 2019, that the report “is in draft format and should therefore be regarded as a discussion document”.

3.3.10 Yet, the article called the document a “damning forensic report”. It mentioned the report twice more, but never qualifies it as a “draft”.

3.3.11 It does not help, as Lubisi argues, that the newspaper’s previous article, published in December 2019, did mention the document was in draft form – readers cannot be expected to recall that story from months before. And even if they did, the report could have been formally adopted in the meantime.

3.3.12 The editor’s argument that the story did not explicitly say that the report was “final” is also weak. It referred to a “damning forensic report” – which must have left readers with little or no idea that the document was only up for discussion at the time of publication.

3.3.13 I accept Lubisi’s statement that the Premier already in December 2019 wanted to see action taken based on the draft report’s recommendations. But even so, that did not change the status of the document.

3.3.14 Based on the above, I find that the reportage on this issue was untruthful, inaccurate, unfair and misleading. I do believe there is no need for me to elaborate on why such reporting is unnecessarily harmful.

3.4 Report ‘published’

3.4.1 Montshioa complains Tau published the report on the internet (without giving the Board an opportunity to respond to it).

3.4.2 Lubisi denies that the newspaper has published the report, or parts thereof. He says specific questions emanating from the content of the report were asked and reported on.

3.4.3 Montshioa does not reply to this denial.

Analysis

3.4.4 Montshioa has provided no evidence that City Press indeed published the report, or parts thereof, on the internet.

3.5 Licenses renewed

3.5.1 The article said, “Goldrush’s operator licenses were not renewed earlier in January 2019…”

3.5.2 Montshioa says licenses are renewed in March every year, and complains that the statement in question is inaccurate.

3.5.3 The editor does not respond to this part of the complaint.

Analysis

3.5.4 I have no reason to disbelieve Montshioa on this issue, which means I accept that the statement in question was inaccurate.

  1. Finding

4.1 Corrupt; failing to act

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

4.2 Information omitted

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

4.3 Draft report

Neglecting to state that the report in question was in draft form, is in breach of Section 1.1 of the Press Code that says: “The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.”

4.4 Report ‘published’

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

4.5 Licenses renewed

The statement that Goldrush’s operator licenses were not renewed January 2019 is in breach of Sect. 1.1 of the Press Code that says, “The media shall take care to report news … accurately …”

  1. Seriousness of breaches                                              

5.1 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).

5.2 The neglect to state that the report in question was in draft form, is a Tier 2 offence; the statement that Goldrush’s operator licenses were not renewed January 2019 is a Tier 1 offence.

  1. Sanction

6.1 City Press is:

  • directed to apologise to the North West Gambling Board for neglecting to clarify that the Gobodo Forensic and Investigation was a draft one;
  • reprimanded for inaccurately stating that Goldrush’s license was not renewed in January 2019.

6.2 The newspaper is directed to publish this sanction on all its platforms where the story appeared.

6.3 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

Acting Assistant Press Ombud