Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa vs The Citizen

Complainant:  Executive Mayor of Tshwane, Kgosientso Ramokgopa

Logde by:  Executive Mayor of Tshwane, Kgosientso Ramokgopa

Article:  We want Juju back, and ‘Bring Juju back to ANC’ – Members: Plead with Luthuli House to reinstate axed ‘fiery’ leader, respectively.

Author of article:  Ngwake Modjadji

Date: 12 June 2016

Respondent:  Steven Motale, editor of The Citizen newspaper.

Complaint

Ramokgopa complains that the:

·         story incorrectly ascribed statements to him that he never made (regarding a “mistake” by the ANC to expel Mr Julius Malema – details below), and argues that the reportage was unfair and designed to mislead the public;

·         journalist did not request an interview with him, or with the spokesmen of the City of Tshwane prior to publication; and

·         the reportage has caused (unnecessary) damage to his reputation as a mayor and as the chairman of the ANC Tshwane Region. “The impression created is that I disagree with and criticise the decisions made by the top leadership of my organisation, the ANC,” he argues.

The text

The sub-heading on page 1 stated Ramokgopa said that Malema’s expulsion was a “mistake that had come back to haunt the party”, adding that his remarks were followed by mounting calls for Malema to be brought back to the ANC.

Ramokgopa’s picture on the front page was accompanied by the following text: “Tshwane mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa says Julius Malema’s expulsion was a mistake that had come back to haunt the party. His remarks were followed by mounting calls for Malema to be brought back to the ailing organisation.” The caption in respect of Ramokgopa stated he had said that the EFF’s growing popularity was posing a threat to the ANC in the August poll.

The story on page 3, written by Ngwake Modjadji, reported Ramokgopa had said that the EFF’s growing popularity posed a threat to the ANC in the region going into the August poll. “He said Malema’s expulsion was a mistake that had come back to haunt the party, as the EFF may eat into ANC votes,” the journalist reported.

The Citizen’s response

Motale says the text dealt with sentiments expressed by several individuals regarding the wisdom and / or impact of Malema’s expulsion from the ANC.

He adds, “The introduction and the main part of the story concerned the views of Boy Mamabolo, chairperson of the Milo Malatjie branch of the ANC. The headline of the story on page 3… (placed in quotation marks) as well as the sub-head … as well as the bold intro to the story Limpopo branch plans to right mistake of expelling Malema from the party all refer to Mamabolo’s statements and sentiments and would have been understood as such by readers.”

The editor notes the part that referred to Ramokgopa appeared towards the end of the story. He argues that these words were not placed in quotation marks, and they were not intended nor reasonably understood to be the mayor’s exact words – it was rather “the reporter’s summary of what he would have said”.

He says the source of Ramokgopa’s statements was the Sunday Times newspaper of 24 April 2016 (Ghost of Juju looms large in metro fight), which ascribed various quotes to Ramokgopa. He says, “The Citizen assumed that the Sunday Times accurately conveyed what was said by Mr Ramokgopa. It was entitled to do so since there was no reason at the time to doubt this. The reporter’s summary of Mr Ramokgopa’s statements, as published by the Sunday Times, accurately convey the gist of what he had reportedly said.”

Motale concludes that the newspaper reported fairly, accurately and in good faith the sentiments that were publicly ascribed to Ramokgopa. There was at the time no need for The Citizen to contact Mr Ramokgopa to confirm these comments, nor to ask him for comment on his reported comments. “If the Sunday Times misquoted [him] he should lodge a complaint against [that newspaper]. The Citizen acted reasonably in this matter and asks that the complaint be dismissed.”

Analysis

Even if The Citizen had no reason to suspect that the Sunday Times may have misquoted Ramokgopa, as argued by Motale, it still should not have taken it as gospel. Something is not true just because a newspaper has reported it as such.

There was an easy way out, one which would have put The Citizen completely in the clear – the use of the word “reportedly”, preferably with a reference to the Sunday Times or at least to “a newspaper”. It was unprofessional not to have done so.

In law, the repetition of defamation is also defamation. Applied to media ethics, the repetition of a statement that unnecessarily lowers someone’s reputation, is also an unnecessary lowering of that person’s reputation.

A ruling that I have made some years ago regarding a complaint by the same Malema about the value of his house in Johannesburg comes to mind. The media consistently said the property was worth R16-million, as the one publication after the other merely repeated this falsehood. I then asked for a certified statement by Malema’s architect as to the value of the house, which came to about half that amount (for which it sold not long afterwards).

It is dangerous merely to repeat what was reported, assuming the correctness of a statement, without independent verification.

As it stands, The Citizen took a risk to trust that Sunday Times got it right.

By the latter publication’s own admission the mayor never used the words “was a mistake that had come back to haunt the party”. The Citizen, unlike the Sunday Times, directly ascribed those words to him.

That was not accurate (according to the primary source – the Sunday Times). The gamble The Citizen took did not pay off as far as this particular matter is concerned.

This is a matter that should be rectified.

Finding

The Citizen was in breach of Section 1.1of the Code of Conduct that states, “The media shall take care to report news…accurately…”

Seriousness of breaches

Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of the Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1), serious breaches (Tier 2) and serious misconduct (Tier 3).                                                                                    

The breach of the Code of Ethics and Conduct as indicated above is a Tier 2 offence.

Sanction

The publication is reprimanded and directed to correct the statement that Ramokgopa used the words “was a mistake that had come back to haunt the party”.

The text, which should be approved by me, should:

 

    • start with the reprimand and then continue with the reason for it; and
    • end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”.

 

The headline should reflect the content of the text. A heading such as Matter of Fact, or something similar, is not acceptable.

If the offending article appeared on the newspaper’s website, the correction should appear there as well.

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