Kgomoco Diseko vs The Star

Complainant:  Kgomoco Diseko

Lodged by:  Kgomoco Diseko

Article:  Fraud on my SASSA account – but no one seems to care

Author of article:  Georgina Crouth

Date: 27 May 2016

Respondent:  Kevin Ritchie, editor of The Star newspaper

Complaint

Diseko complains that the:

·        reporter has left him under the wrong impression that a matter had been resolved – only to unfairly and misleadingly refer to his acknowledgement of receipt as an “unhelpful response”;

·        journalist neglected to mention that his colleague had assisted the complainant – portraying the wrong impression that Sassa did not contact the complainant;

·        story incorrectly called him the acting head of communications at Sassa; and

·        editor falsely stated that his concerns were checked and that they were baseless – attempting to project Sassa as an uncaring organisation who employed unhelpful people, such as himself.

He complains that the reportage has unnecessarily damaged his reputation.

The texts

Someone only identified as “Chesnaye” wrote to The Star, asking for help as she had several deductions done on her SASSA card of which she said she had no knowledge. She lamented the poor service she got when she tried to resolve this problem with Sassa.

She ended her letter as follows: “It has been six months and money is still being deducted for a loan that I never received. Please help me, this is my only source of income.”

Crouth responded that she had forwarded the complaint to Sassa for investigation, “but [I have] received an unhelpful response from Kgomoco Diseko, their acting head of communications: ‘Your query is receiving attention and a call centre agent will contact you in the next 24 hours’. One would have hoped the [complainant] would have been the one contacted.”

Diseko then wrote to the newspaper, who duly published his response. His letter was headlined, Sassa article: let me set the facts straight.

In his response he called the article “sensational”, “grossly misleading” and “far from the truth”. He said that, as a Sassa spokesman, he followed standard practice by acknowledging the journalist’s correspondence and assured her that the matter was being investigated – after which a call centre would provide feedback within 24 hours. “[The reporter’s] response was that the matter had been sorted by another Sassa official,” he stated. He added that the article falsely labelled his response as “unhelpful”.

Diseko also wrote the journalist omitted the fact that the complainant did receive help from one of his colleagues. He added that the journalist wrongly referred to him as the acting head of Sassa’s communication section.

The editor published the following text underneath Diseko’s letter: “We have the highest opinion of Georgina Crouth as our consumer editor. We’ve checked your concerns and they are baseless. We stand by our story and her, and you are more than welcome to report this to the ombud.”

Analysis

The texts were all published as opinion pieces.

I am satisfied that the newspaper did give Diseko a right of reply – and accordingly published it. In the same vein, though, the editor exercised his right of reply as well. I am not going to deny either of them their constitutional right – even if one of them (or both) were wrong.

I accept that Diseko was not Sassa’s acting head of communications. However, by his own admission, he was a spokesman for the organisation. As far as I am concerned, nothing major turns on this.

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