Miriam Segabutla vs Sowetan

Compliant: Miriam Segabutla

Lodged by: Miriam Segabutla

Article: Health MEC has failed – Nehawu

Author of article: 

Date: 8 June 2011

Respondent: Sowetan

Ms Miriam Segabutla complains about a story in the Sowetan, published on December 7, 2010 and headlined Health MEC has failed – Nehawu.
She complains that:
  • the story’s objective is to portray her as incompetent, corrupt and ruthless;
  • the newspaper maliciously wants to permanently damage her reputation and that of her department;
  • she was never contacted for comment; and
  • she does not (randomly) dismiss officials.
The story says that the biggest union in the health sector, Nehawu, has called on Limpopo premier Cassel Mathale to fire his Health and Social Development MEC Miriam Segabutla. Nehawu reportedly said that Segabutla must be replaced as “she had failed as MEC”. The same call, the story continues, was made by the Forum of Limpopo Entrepreneurs and the Junior Doctors Association of South Africa (Judasa).
We shall now consider the merits of the complaint:
Portraying Segabutla as incompetent, corrupt, ruthless
The story reports that Nehawu has called on Mathale to fire Segabutla as “she had failed as MEC”, adding that it was not convinced that her actions would bring any changes in service delivery. The same call was reportedly made by the Forum of Limpopo Entrepreneurs and Judasa. The story says: “Among other things, Segabutla is accused of paying R16,5 million to two companies with links to her lawyer, Gert van der Merwe… The payment was made despite the companies having promised to do the job for free.” Nehawu reportedly also said that it noted with disappointment the on-going deterioration of the provincial health system.
Segabutla complains that this reportage portrays her as incompetent, corrupt and ruthless.
Sowetan says that it had not initiated the story – the article merely reflects a resolution taken by Nehawu.
The newspaper is correct in that the story is about Nehawu’s call on Mathale to fire Segabutla. Every single statement that can be interpreted as negative towards her is ascribed to the union; there is not a single sentence that states it as a fact that she was incompetent, corrupt and ruthless. In this instance, the newspaper was merely the messenger.
Permanently, maliciously damaging reputations
With reference to the above-mentioned negative statements regarding her, Segabutla complains that Sowetan maliciously intended to permanently damage her reputation as well as that of the Department of Health and Social Development.
The newspaper uses the same argument as mentioned above.
The same goes for me.
Not contacted for comment
Segabutla complains that the newspaper never approached her for her side of the story – this, she argues, was necessary given the harsh allegations made regarding her. She singles out the reported statement by Nehawu, namely that it “will embark on a campaign and mobilise all our members and community, which are affected by the poor service delivery in our province, to make sure that she is removed”. This “negative, unfair and inaccurate statement”, she argues, necessitated soliciting comments from her and the department. The fact that she was not asked for comment, she concludes, violated her Constitutional right to be given a fair hearing and resulted in the violation of her dignity.
Sowetan admits that it never asked Segabutla for comment and concedes that “this was a bad omission, seeing that there was no rush to print”. The newspaper also says that it has raised this concern with its news desk.
The newspaper’s response is to be welcomed in this regard – it admits that it was a bad omission to not have contacted Segabutla; and it took steps not to repeat this mistake.
Randomly dismissing officials
The sentence in dispute quotes Nehawu’s provincial secretary, Mr Richard Monyela, as saying: “Instead the MEC has resolved to…randomly dismiss officials at the provincial institutions…”
Segabutla complains that, as she does not chair or initiate disciplinary hearings, she is not in a position to “randomly dismiss officials”. Disciplinary hearings, she says, are conducted in terms of the Disciplinary Code for the Public Service in particular, and in terms of the rules of natural justice in general.
Sowetan merely says that this issue “would have come to light had the reporter contacted the former MEC for comment”.
From the newspaper’s reaction, it can be reasonably assumed that it concedes that Segabutla was wronged by the statement in dispute. However, it is presented as Nehawu’s opinion – and the newspaper had the right to publish the union’s view (even if it proved to be wrong).
This is just another example of how important it is to seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage.
Portraying Segabutla as incompetent, corrupt, ruthless
The newspaper merely reported Nehawu’s call on Mathale to fire Segabutla. This part of the complaint is dismissed.
Permanently, maliciously damaging reputations
Again, the newspaper was merely a messenger. This part of the complaint is dismissed.
Not contacted for comment
The newspaper has not contacted Segabutla for comment. This is in breach of Art. 1.5 of the Press Code that states: “A publication should usually seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication…”
Randomly dismissing officials
The newspaper had the right to publish Nehawu’s view that Segabutla randomly dismissed officials, even if the union was wrong. This part of the complaint is dismissed. However, the newspaper is correct when it says that this issue “would have come to light had the reporter contacted the former MEC for comment”.
Sowetan is:
  • reprimanded for not asking Segabutla for comment;
  • directed to publish her comment, as contained in her complaint, regarding the statement that she randomly dismissed officials; and
  • directed to do a follow-up story that portrays Segabutla’s views on other matters that are mentioned in the story – if she wishes to do so. If she refuses, this part of the sanction lapses.
Our office should be furnished with the text prior to publication.
Please add the following sentence at the end of the text: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2011) for the full finding.”
Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, anyone of the parties may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman