Patriotic Alliance vs. SAPA


Wed, Feb 12, 2014

Ruling by the Press Ombudsman

12 February 2014

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Charles Cilliers, on behalf of Mr Gayton Mckenzie of the Patriotic Alliance, and Mark van der Velden, editor of Sapa.

Complaint

Cilliers complains about a Sapa story which was circulated to several online publications in December 2013.

The Patriotic Alliance (PA) complains the statement “of fact” in the story that it was a party that “consisted of gangsters” was inaccurate and damaging.

Analysis

The story said that the parole of Mr Rasheed Staggie, former Hard Livings gang leader on the Cape Flats, had been revoked because he had joined a political party, the PA, “which consisted of gangsters”.

The PA complains that this depiction was false. It says that the police in the Western Cape alleged that the party was made up of gangsters, but it could provide no evidence to this effect – and Sapa made a leap to present this unfounded allegation as fact.

Sapa replies that due to an editing error the word “reportedly” was dropped from the sentence. It argues, though, that Mckenzie (who co-formed the PA in November 2013) was a convicted criminal who said in a Metro FM interview that gangsters were joining his party, and also: “They can call me a gangster. They can call us a gangster party. But they’ll see me at the polls.”

The news agency offers to do an interview with Mckenzie “to tell us more about his political party, what it stands for and who its members are, which we will then storify and distribute on our wire as a fresh and relevant and interesting news report”.

The PA accepts this proposal on condition that the story should be written as an apology. It says that it was vitally important “that Sapa (does) not attempt to weasel out of an apology”.

Sapa takes exception to the use of the word “weasel”, and refuses to apologise.

I also find the use of the word “weasel” rather unfortunate.

The main issue, though, is the question if Sapa should apologise for its mistake, or merely correct it (with or without a new story).

The yardstick that I constantly use when deciding about the above, is the question how much unnecessary harm a mistake may have caused the affected party.

Therefore, I need to do some research into what the PA stands for.

According to an internet search:

McKenzie explained that the inspiration for the formation of PA came from the extraordinary levels of gang violence during 2013 in the Western Cape. He stated that he believed that the governments in the Western Cape had not done enough to eradicate the root causes of gangsterism and crime and that the only way to ensure that this could be changed would be if a new political entity was established to address this issue.

While the party has stated that one of its key aims is the eradication of the sociopolitical and socioeconomic conditions that cause gangsterism and crime, almost all criticism and satire levelled at the PA has focused on the perception that the PA is a “gangster party”. PA leaders have, however, countered that they have been open about their discussions with gang leaders and this group is merely one among many others that have been consulted in talks ahead of the formation of the party. The PA stated that calling the party an organisation exclusively for gangsters is an attempt to intimidate people into not joining the party.

Despite police sources claiming that most of the 250 people who attended the pre-launch event were prominent gangsters and businessmen with underworld links, and that it was being led by members of the notorious 26s numbers prison gang, no one in the party’s leadership structures is a confirmed gang member.

The PA has also stated they would not allow an active gang member to assume a leadership position in the party, though no South African citizen would be prevented from joining the party.

·         There is nothing on the PA’s website (www.paparty.org.za) that contradicts the information mentioned above.

From this (and I have no reason to disbelieve the information in the articles that I have read) it is clear that the PA wants to eradicate gangsterism, rather than be a party of gangsters. The description of the PA as “consisting of gangsters” therefore goes against a central conviction of the party and could only have caused it huge unnecessary harm. This was both inaccurate and unfair.

Based on all the information at my disposal I can accept that some members or supporters of the PA are gangsters. However, that probably goes for some other parties as well. The point is that nowhere does the PA encourage gangers to join its ranks because they are gangsters. Moreover, the fact that some of its leadership are convicted criminals, does in itself not mean that they are or were gangsters.

The fact that the PA is often described in the media as a party of gangsters should not serve as an excuse to perpetuate this description. Even the use of the word “reportedly”, which was edited out, would not have sufficiently rectified the matter.

This reminds me of an earlier ruling, where Mr Julius Malema complained that a newspaper erroneously stated that one of his houses was worth R16 million. One publication after the other merely quoted from each other, not bothering to find out the truth for itself. I then asked the architect for an official evaluation of the property, which amounted to R8.5 million.

The danger of this kind of reporting is that, if one repeats a false statement often enough, it becomes the truth in the eyes of the public.

Finding

The description of the PA as a party that consists of gangsters was in breach of Section 2.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.”

Sanction

Sapa is directed to apologise to the PA and to send out the following text:

Sapa circulated a story in December 2013 in which we inaccurately and unfairly depicted the newly formed Cape-based political party the Patriotic Alliance (PA) as a body that “consisted of gangsters”, causing it unnecessary harm.

The party lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman, Johan Retief, who said that the PA clearly stated that it rather wants to eradicate gangsterism.

“The description of the PA as ‘consisting of gangsters’ therefore goes against a central conviction of the party and therefore it could only have caused it huge unnecessary harm. This was both inaccurate and unfair,” he said.

Retief stated that, based on the information at his disposal, he could accept that some members or supporters of the PA were gangsters. “However, that probably goes for some other parties as well. The point is that nowhere does the PA encourage gangers to join its ranks because they are gangsters. Moreover, the fact that some of its leadership are convicted criminals, does in itself not mean that they are or were gangsters.”

He added that, although the PA is often described in the media as a party of gangsters, this should not serve as an excuse to perpetuate this description. Even the insertion of the word ‘reportedly’, which was edited out, would not have sufficiently rectified the matter.

“The danger of this kind of reporting is that, if one repeats a false statement often enough, it becomes the truth in the eyes of the public,” Retief said.

We regret any unnecessary harm that this description may have caused the PA.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

End of text

The possibility of a separate story about the PA is left up to Sapa’s discretion.

Appeal

Our 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 Adjudication Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman