IFP vs The Citizen

Dear Liezl

Your complaint about the publication of Mr Inkosi Mzamo Buthelezi’s shortened letter in response to an editorial headlined Gwede: Chief with a Double Agenda in The Citizen newspaper (published on 31 May 2013) refers.

The sentence in dispute read: “The scenario is reminiscent of a 1988 book title describing Mangosuthu Buthelezi as a chief with a double agenda” (referring to such a possible double agenda on Mr Gwede Mantashe’s part regarding Pres Jacob Zuma’s friendship with the Gupta family).

You complain that the shortened version of Buthelezi’s letter:

  • was edited beyond recognition;
  • did not refer to the newspaper; and
  • Prince Buthelezi was denied the right of reply.

I’ll deal with each bullet separately:

  • I do agree that the letter was edited quite considerably. A slightly larger version may have reflected the initial letter more adequately (I specifically refer to the book titled Chief with a Double Agenda). However, I cannot agree that the letter was edited “beyond recognition”. I also take into account that the crux of the editorial was not focused on the Prince – the only sentence that implicated him was rather just in passing;
  • It is not true that the published letter did not refer to The Citizen – see the last sentence/paragraph of that letter; and
  • It is not normal journalistic practice to ask anybody for comment when writing an editorial such as this one.

I also need to add that the sentence in dispute did not state it as fact that Buthelezi had been a double agent – it merely referred to a book that was “reminiscent” of a double agenda. The editorial certainly did not pronounce any judgment as to the veracity of that allegation.

In addition: Your argument that the Public Advocate dismissed your complaint “legally incorrectly” does not hold water. The same clause that you quote from our Complaints Procedures (1.5) states that the PA may dismiss a complaint if it is “frivolous”. Even if she did not argue this point, I would do so with conviction.

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.

Kind regards

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman