Kelebogile Mohotji vs City Press

Complainant:  Kelebogile Mohotji

Lodged by: Ma Laura Battezatti-Collier of Khumalo Masondo Attorneys Inc

Article: Setting the record straight on our Ceta story

Date: 10 June 2016

Respondent: Dumisane Lubisi, executive editor of City Press newspaper

Complaint

Mohotji is complaining about a correction in City Press of 6 March 2016, headlined Setting the record straight on our Ceta story.

She complains that, while City Press did not ask her for comment on the story that the newspaper later corrected, it made the same mistake in its correction – which had adversely affected her reputation. She demands a right of reply.

The text

City Press published a correction following the publication of an article on March 1, headlined Ceta whistle-blowers ‘hunted’ by CEO. This story alleged that Mohotji had been referred to in a meeting as an enemy, and that she had been charged and dismissed for leaking information.

The correction, in the form of comment from the CEO of CETA, Ms Sonja Pilusa, said that Mohotji “was charged and dismissed for, among other things, the unapproved disposal of organizational assets, and issuing an unauthorized instruction of payment contrary to Ceta finance project payments, together with a serious misrepresentation of authority. The claim that she was charged for whistle-blowing is inaccurate. No protected disclosures in terms of applicable law were made”.

The arguments

Lubisi replies to the complaint that, at the time of publication, City Press relied on letters containing the allegations. He says the newspaper was “used to advance the interest of the anonymous staff members of CETA without us confirming whether any of the information contained in the documents was truthful and its status. As a result, we decided on carrying the lengthy retraction and apology and afforded CETA to give their side of the story which we had not captured when writing the story.”

I quote the editor extensively regarding this issue: “The information about Ms Mohotji being dismissed for leaking information was carried in the original story based on the unsigned documents that we relied on. It was not CETA that indicated that Ms Mohotji was dismissed for leaking information, but that was on the documents we had relied on. CETA, in their right of response, corrected that Ms Mohotji was not dismissed because of leaking information and they gave a detailed reason for her dismissal. It is the CETA that provided the information to correct the wrong information we had published. Ms Mohotji never complained after the publication of the first publication that she had been dismissed for leaking information, but only brought this matter up after CETA corrected our wrong story and provided the reason for the dismissal.

“It is clear, given the reasons of Ms Mohotji’s dismissal by CETA, that her disciplinary hearing had nothing to with what the investigators were doing. CETA says she was charged and dismissed for amongst other things, the unapproved disposal of organisational assets, and issuing an unauthorised instruction for payment contrary to CETA finance project payments, together with serious misrepresentation of authority. Ms Mohotji in her complaint does not dispute these reasons for her dismissal as revealed by CETA, save for questioning the ethical conduct of CETA for mentioning the reasons. In this instance, Ms Mohotji does not offer any solutions to what CETA says she was dismissed for, except for the fact that there are legal proceedings going on.

“City Press is convinced that the complaint is without merit and should be dismissed, because there is no shred of proof provided by Ms Mohotji to disprove the contents of the apology and CETA’s right of reply as carried on March 6th.”

Battezatti-Collier highlights various sections of the Code of Ethics and Conduct. Section 1.9 is especially relevant: “Where a news item is published on the basis of limited information, this shall be stated as such and the reports should be supplemented once new information becomes available.”

She adds that, had City Press asked Mohotji for comment, she would have supplied the newspaper with ample evidence to support her argument.

Analysis

Battezatti-Collier argues that it was more the correction than the original story that did the damage to Mohotji; her complaint, therefore, is about the second text and not the first.

This is important.

The second text (which Mohotji complains about), was a correction by CETA.

I cannot blame City Press for publishing CETA’s response (to the contrary!), and I certainly do not expect the newspaper to check every angle of such a response. What CETA said was not of the newspaper’s doing – it merely acted as the messenger in this regard.

I also note that Mohotji has lodged a complaint with the CCMA, a matter which is still pending.

Given all of these arguments, Lubisi is correct – Mohotji should take up the matter with CETA and not with City Press. However, in light of Section 1.9 of the Code, as quoted above, I do expect City Press to report on the outcome of the CCMA hearing.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

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 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