Appeal Decision: Dhlomo Mbali vs. Ilanga Langesonto

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Dhlomo Mbali

Respondent: Ilanga Langesonto

Matter: 1617/02/2016

DECISION: APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

[1]     Ms Mbali Dhlomo (“applicant”) complained to the Press Ombud about a story published by the Ilanga LangeSonto (“respondent”) on 7 February 2016.  She raised a number of complaints the main of which was that the respondent falsely stated that she had committed fraud and mishandled the funds of a body known as the Kwa-Zulu Natal Community Publishers Primary Co-operative.  The other complaints were that her surname had been incorrect spelt (without an “h”) and that it was wrongly stated that she was the publisher of the Genuine Magazine.

[2]     The respondent contested the main complaint; that it did not accuse applicant of any fraud, but mere by reported the story in accordance with the information it had received from someone who had resigned as a result of the concerns he had about the financial affairs of the organization.  However, the respondent admitted fault with regard to the misspelling of applicant’s surname, and also conceded that she was no longer with the Genuine Magazine.

[3]     In his Ruling dated 18 April 2016, the Ombudsman dismissed the main complaint.  He said: “The crux of Dhlomo’s complaint is that the story falsely stated she had committed fraud and mishandled funds.  However, the story did not state any such thing.  Of course, the context of the article involved Dlhomo – not in fraud, though, but in allegations thereof.  The story itself did not even state her involvement explicitly; the caption did”.  The new chairman of the Co-operative had suddenly resigned; there were allegations of fraud which the respondent did not have to prove. I agree with him.  I need not add anything further.  I do not believe that there was a duty on the respondent to go about verifying the truth of the allegations, despite applicant repeated argument to the contrary. I can assure the applicant that one would be deeply concerned about damage to her reputation.  But the story was presented in such a way that there was no attack on her.  At worst the report caused the reader simply to ask whether there could have been some misconduct; this had to arise given the sudden resignation of the new chairman.

[4]     As sanction for the two mistakes made by the respondent, the Ombudsman reprimanded it and ordered it to correct them.  I do not think that the applicant has reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel.  The application is therefore dismissed.

Dated at Pretoria this 26th day of May 2016

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel