Zamo Khwela vs. ILanga


Thu, Nov 8, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

8 November 2018

Particulars

Date of article: 20 September 2018

Headline: UThisha obindwe iqatha washona (Teacher choked by a piece of meat and died – He was attending a ceremony to introduce a bride at the in-laws)

Page: 5

Respondent: Philani Mgwaba, editorial director: Ilanga Newspapers

Complaint                                            

The gist of Khwela’s complaint is that the journalists were cruel, disrespectful, arrogant and insensitive, and made a mockery of the death of his uncle by publishing a story (and a picture of the deceased) without first talking to the family – thereby causing the family even more pain during the time of grieving.

He adds that the journalists then interviewed his uncle’s friends who were with him during his time of death – which has caused much friction between families. He submits that the article has insinuated that these men, who are fathers, had something to do with the death of his uncle.

The text

The article was about the death of Mr Mdu Khwela, a teacher who died during a traditional function at KwaMashu, Durban. It was suspected that he had choked on a piece of meat.

The arguments

MGWABA says Ilanga merely reported a story that was already widely in the public domain (on social media and local radio stations) – and, he says, it was done in a sensitive, matter-of-fact manner and in no way made light of the tragedy.

He adds:

  • The reporter spoke to people who were at the function, and also to members of the deceased’s family at his home, who confirmed that Khwela had died after eating meat at a function;
  • They told the journalist that other members of the family could offer more details, but they were not at home at the time;
  • The members of the family who were at Khwela’s home did not object to the reporter’s presence or ask that the story not be published; and
  • The reporter also spoke to the police, who said an inquest docket had been opened to investigate Khwela’s death.

He concludes: “We also wish to record that the editors of Ilanga are very much aware of the cultural and customary sensitivities relating the passing away of a family member in an African family, and would never intentionally allow the publication of a report that would exacerbate the grief of the family of the deceased.”

KHWELA replies that no one from the Khwela family was at the house on the day in question and it published the story without speaking to anyone from that family. The journalist spoke to some members of the community, who were helping out with the cleaning at home. One was left with a business card. This means, he argues, that the journalist solely relied on social media – they apparently even took the picture of the late Khwela from Facebook.

Analysis

It is not true that the journalist relied on social media for information – the reporter visited the house, spoke to people present, and enquired with the police. It was unfortunate that family members were not at home when the journalist visited the residence – but the publication of the story (given all the efforts put in by the journalist, as described above) cannot be in breach of the Press Code because of that.

I also do not find any suggestion in the story that certain people had “something to do” with Khwela’s death.

For the record: I agree fully with the editor’s response.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

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