Mr Alph Lukau vs City Press

Finding: Complaint number 4331

Date of Article: 24/03/2019

Headline:Pastor Lukau demanded sex from me

Page: 3

Online: Yes

Author: Ntombizodwa Makhoba

Particulars

This ruling is based on a written complaint from Mr Sean Sim on behalf of Mr Alph Lukau, the head of the church known as Alleluia Ministries International; a written response from the editor of City Press, Mr Dumisane Lubisi, meetings with Mr Lubisi and the reporter, Ms Ntombizodwa Makhoba, as well as with Mr Sim, and interviews with five of Ms Makhoba’s sources for the story.

These include sources contacted for the ruling in Complaint number 4333, also brought by Mr Sim on behalf of Mr Lukau against City Press. The two complaints (and articles) are closely tied, although this one differs in some significant respects.

  1. Complaint

1.1 Mr Sean Sim, on behalf of Mr Alph Lukau, complains about a story published in City Press both online and in print, that alleges that Mr Lukau, a prominent church minister, sexually harassed and abused certain female members of the church.

Mr Sim calls the allegations “false, defamatory and made with malicious and bad intent”.

1.2 There is no evidence to support the allegations, which were made anonymously, and the newspaper “did nothing to obtain substantive proof” of them.

1.3 The article was not true, accurate or fair; it is not supported by any factual evidence and relies on hearsay.

1.4 The article, combined with the newspaper’s Twitter and Facebook posts, was “clearly intended to shock and to maximize readership.”

1.5 The reporting, particularly in the wake of the previous article that was referred to the Ombudsman (see Finding Number 4333), was unprofessional. The reporter and the newspaper allowed “personal considerations” to influence them.

1.6 The headline was also misleading. The subhead stated: “Allegations emerge of sexual abuse of young girls by ‘man of God’ at his church.” This gave the impression that many “young girls” had made these allegations but this is not reflected in the story.

1.7 The newspaper, Mr Sim contends, has transgressed the Press Code in terms of the following clauses:

  • Take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.

1.2 present news in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization;

1.3 Only what may be reasonably true, having regard to the sources of the news, may be presented as fact and such facts shall be published fairly with reasonable regard to context and importance. Where a report is not based on facts…it shall be presented in a manner to indicate this clearly

1.4 To obtain news legally, honestly and fairly unless public interest dictates otherwise.

1.7 Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report or a source and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where not… this shall be stated.

1.8 The media shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…

1.9 Where a news item is based on limited information, this shall be stated.

2.1 The media shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting

3.3 The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation.

5.2 The right and duty to report and comment on matters of legitimate public interest…must be balanced against the obligation not to publish material that amounts to…advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender of religion.

10.1 Headlines and captions to pictures shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report or picture in question.

1.8 Mr Sim asks for the “harshest possible” sanction against City Press, including a written retraction and apology on page one.

  1. The text

2.1 The article headlined ‘Pastor Lukau demanded sex from me’ carries a blurb or sub-head that states: “Allegations emerge of sexual abuse of young girls by ‘man of God’ at his church.”

2.2 The article begins with a classic anecdotal lead: “She was only 16 when she first encountered this ‘man of God’, and she entered Alph Lukau’s office eager to receive ‘deliverance’

2.3 It goes on to describe particular details: his couch, the “gold throne-style chair” and how “happy” he seemed to see “a beautiful young girl.”

2.4 The alleged encounter took place in 2013, and “Angela” (a pseudonym) describes it “as the most painful year” of her life. “I cried day and night. I was blaming myself for attending this church. It took me three years to trust any church again.”

She also is quoted as saying it was a “dream come true” to meet the man congregants call “Papa”.

She says the pastor “commented on her blouse and hairstyle” and asked her about her “sexual history”, leaving her “uncomfortable and confused.”.

When she told Mr Lukau she was a virgin “it appeared as if he couldn’t contain his excitement.”

At the meeting they did not discuss God or the Bible but he asked her to arrange another meeting “as they needed more time together.”

2.5 It then has a paragraph quoting Mr Lukau “strongly” denying all the allegations saying, through Mr Sim, that he had been “happily married for 17 years and his family has suffered and continues to suffer tremendous hurt and harm as result of these false and malicious allegations.

2.6 It then recounts how two years ago, in the wake of the criminal charges of rape against Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso, “Angela, who is now 23, posted an emotional 30-minute YouTube video detailing her experience.”

She tells the newspaper she did not open a case against him because she would not have been believed.

2.7 City Press then gives details of a “second visit” to Mr Lukau. She waited in a “long queue” and was told he wanted her to be the last person to meet him that day “because her matter was ‘very serious’ and ‘needed more attention.’

He “allegedly” said to her: “I want to help you, but in order for me to help, you have to be relaxed and free around me.

“He demanded sex and touched me on my waist. He then asked that I have sex with him at 12am on the church premises.”

He also allegedly said: “Next time when I see you, I want you to undress for me. If you are not comfortable here, we can book a hotel room and do it there.”

Angela is quoted as saying: “I knew what he was doing was wrong but I was scared of him. One would think this man of God, who has a huge following, is a deputy Jesus…

“He asked me to kneel down and I did… but I was petrified.”

She says he gave her a “tight hug…I was powerless and shaking. But he was happy.”

When she stepped out of his office, she met his wife “who didn’t look surprised”, as well as his “armed protocols” (bodyguards).

2.8 Sim is then quoted from an email saying: “We can confirm that each and every allegation which has been made is false, defamatory and made with malicious intent.”

2.9 “Angela” never returned to the church. When she confided in one of the church leaders, she was labelled a “Jezebel” and told she would die if she left the church.

The article then goes on to recount the allegations of another “young woman” who claims Mr Lukau “forced himself on her.” She says she “knows a lot about the pastor” and “a lot of things happened in my presence.”

2.10 It then quotes a “close confidante” of hers who says: “The first time it happened was in an apartment in Sandton, six years ago, after she became a leader in the church in a short space of time.”

2.11 And then a quote from the confidante: “Lukau asked her whether she would do something for him if he asked her to, and she said yes. He manipulated her using his position as a pastor. She didn’t want to sleep with him, but he forced himself on her.”

This happened a second time, as she was “delivering something” for him, and he said allegedly: “Don’t worry, God will forgive us.”

She then told some people in the church about it but was “threatened by Lukau’s security team”.

2.12 She also, the newspaper reports, “tried – twice – to open a case with the police but the cases went nowhere.”

2.13 It then quotes Mr Sim again who says: “For the record, in counter to these bald [sic]allegations, our client has instructed us that [he]has never sexually assaulted anyone and never interfered with any investigation.”

2.14 The article then quotes a third source, “a married woman”, who accuses Mr Lukau of “making moves on her”. He also offered her a job in his office.

This almost cost me my marriage. The only choice I had was to leave the church,” she is quoted as saying.

2.15 Mr Sim writes they were not provided with “Angela’s” full name and that the details of “the alleged encounter” are “at best, “sketchy”.

“[Lukau] is able to deny each and every such allegation as [he]has simply never engaged in any of the bizarre and far-fetched conduct of the nature that has been alleged.

2.16 The story goes back to quote “Angela” who disagrees and says: “these things happened in the church…. No one talks about pastors violating young girls. We are scared to open cases against them because they are generally very influential and connected. I pray for the day when all these girls who have been sexually assaulted can be brave enough to break their silence.”

2.17 The paper reports that Mr Sim had threatened legal action against City Press if they published this article.

  1. The arguments

The complainant

  • Mr Sim, for Mr Lukau, argues on a number of grounds that the article is “not true, accurate and fair” and was meant to defame the pastor.

The allegations

3.2 The allegations are not supported by factual evidence and “is based on pure hearsay from anonymous sources and there is not an iota of evidence to confirm that any of [them]…were verified by City Press.”

3.3 The article contained “extremely serious, untrue, defamatory, offending, malicious and unproven allegations based on libelous fabrications.”

The effect of these were worsened by the newspaper’s tweets and Facebook post.

3.4 In light of the fact that this is Ms Makhoba’s second article critical of Mr Lukau (the first was referred to the Ombudsman around the time this one was published) is an indication that the reporter has lost “all independence and professionalism” when reporting on Mr Lukau, and indicated she has allowed “personal considerations” to influence her reporting.

3.5 The article relied wholly on anonymous sources.

3.6 When Mr Lukau (through his lawyer) was approached for comment, the allegations of only two individuals were put to him. A third source, who alleged she had been subjected to sexual harassment, was not mentioned by City Press.

3.7 Mr Sim asks why charges were not laid in respect of these allegations, many of which date back five years, and denies that any charges were in fact laid (as inferred by the newspaper report – which says the cases “did not go anywhere”)

3.8 The statements are fabricated from unreliable “non-verified” sources, who may have their own agenda.

3.9 The headline and the subsequent tweets and Facebook posts show that the article was written “in a biased and sensational manner”. Furthermore, the headline doesn’t indicate the allegations are made by anonymous sources.

The sensationalism is shown by such sentences as: “He demanded sex and touched me on my waist. He asked that I have sex with him at 12am on the church premises.”

These created a ‘sinister” atmosphere, particularly as they referenced “young girls”.

3.10 The source that City Press failed to put to Mr Lukau or Mr Sim for comment was a hearsay source, named as the “close confidante” of the woman who was alleged to have been assaulted.

3.11 Mr Sim says he got an email from Ms Makhoba on Friday 22nd March at 11h05, stating: “Good day, I would like to have an interview with pastor Lukau. I have just received an email containing very serious allegations. Please let me know of his availability today.” He argues this indicates the newspaper “did not even interview the sources personally”, nor take steps to verify the allegations.

At 13h13 Mr Sim received an email from Ms Makhoba which included the following:

“Please confirm if these allegations are true or not”. Then it detailed some of the allegations, including:

  • The young woman who in 2013 was asked about her “sexual history” by Mr Lukau.
  • The same young woman who alleged Mr Lukau “demanded that [she]stripped off her clothes (sic)”, and that he demanded “her ‘wild sex’ and suggested it happen at 12am at the church’s premises”.
  • She claimed that “every time this happened, in [sic]was in the presence of the pastor’s protocols who were always staring from a glass door and they would do nothing.”
  • And “another girl…claims she opened cases of sexual assault several times but after a week cases would disappear because the pastor is very influential and connected politically.”
  • She quotes the “girl’ as saying: “The pastor is very connect [sic]and he kills – I was threatened a number of times and I fear for my life.”
  • She concludes: “Looking forward to hearing from you before the end of business today or you [Lukau} can come to the office to tell his side of the story?”

3.12 She sent a further SMS at 14h48 saying: “When should I expect your response? Please advise if the pastor is coming to our offices today?”

And then, when Mr Sim replied that the pastor’s response would reach her by the end of business as she asked, she responded: “Thanks. When is he going to give us a sit-down interview?”

3.13 Mr Sim provided a lengthy response, which included a demand that City Press “comply with its obligations in terms of the Press Code by interrogating the allegations. They are clearly far-fetched, made with malicious intent and devoid of any truth”.

3.14 He specifically stated that the allegation about Mr Lukau demanding “wild sex” from “Angela” was “bizarre”, “malicious” and “far-fetched”.

He also said there is no designation in the church of officials referred to as “protocols” and Mr Lukau did not do “counselling” in his office.

3.15 Mr Sim later told me that Mr Lukau did not have a personal office in 2013 and there were no “glass doors.”

3.16 Insofar as the second allegation, of sexual assault, is concerned, Mr Sim noted that the allegation was anonymous, no case numbers were provided, nor police station details, nor comment from the police. He denies all the allegations and adds “our client would welcome any investigation as this would allow [him]the opportunity to expose them for what they are, as opposed to having to deal with malicious rumours.”

3.17 He added that Mr Lukau has been “happily married for 17 years and [he]and his family have suffered and continue to suffer tremendous hurt/harm as a result of these false and malicious allegations….AMI have continuously made it known that they find any form of sexual abuse, or any form of abuse for that matter, as abhorrent and against the scriptures and that such conduct has never been allowed or tolerated nor will it ever be tolerated within the AMI.”

3.18 He also “demanded” that City Press not publish any article based on the allegations.

Right of reply

3.19 In terms of the right to reply, he says City Press published only part of the response from Mr Lukau.

I have looked at the response and the part published. In particular, what was left out were the following points:

  • that “protocols” were not a designation in the church,
  • that there was an absence of details about case numbers or police stations
  • that the AMI church found “any form of sexual abuse abhorrent and against the scriptures.”
  • that Mr Lukau and the AMI had called for a “legitimate” investigation into the allegations.

3.20 This, Mr Sim argues, shows a disregard for “fair and balanced reporting.” He also argues that the allegations of the third alleged victim were not put to them.

Privacy, dignity and reputation

3.21 Mr Sim says the article was not supported by any “factual evidence” and was “pure hearsay”. It did not even reference the YouTube video mentioned in the article (nor was this mentioned in Ms Makhoba’s email to them)

3.22 There was no attempt at verification. “There can be no doubt that allegations of sexual abuse are some of the most serious allegations that can ever be made against someone.”

3.23 The newspaper’s conduct, including in the redacted version of the comment it published, shows it “failed to exercise care and consideration in a matter which involves our client’s dignity and reputation and that of his family and AMI”, and furthermore has shown “blatant disregard” for this and the possibility that the article may cause him “unnecessary harm”.

Headline

3.24 The sub-head: “Allegations emerge of sexual abuse of young girls by ‘man of God’” created the impression that many “young girls” had made this allegation, which was not the case, nor was it reflected in the article.

3.25 The effects of the article had been “devastating to our client, his family and AMI and have caused [him]to suffer irreparable harm and reputational damage” and he has been faced with “ridicule and scorn.

3.26 This harm is compounded by the fact that it is the second article City Press has published about him which have included “unfounded, reckless, hurtful and malicious allegations.”

3.27 Mr Sim demands a written retraction of the article and an apology to be published on page one as well as on its online platforms.

City Press

3.27 Mr Dumisane Lubisi, executive editor of City Press put various arguments forward in a written response. These included:

  • That sexual abuse of women and children is an under-reported crime in the country. “Far often the victims of such crimes are vulnerable and the people who perpetuate such crimes are often the powerful and those who command respect in society.”
  • The victims are often intimidated and reluctant to come forward and report these cases “because society would often not believe them or worse subject them to secondary victimisation
  • The allegations stem for several sources canvassed over a period of time”.
  • Given Mr Lukau’s “extremely powerful position, the allegations indicate repeated exploitation of the vulnerable.
  • There was public interest in publishing these allegations.
  • It is difficult, by the nature of the alleged offence, to find verification, as these incidents often take place behind closed doors. City Press was “aware of this difficulty but maintain that all the circumstances in total convinced us that the information was credible.”
  • City Press also knows the true identity of the victims.

3.28 When City Press did its first story, published when the church was in the news after the so-called “resurrection”, some of these allegations came to light. It was only then that the newspaper tried to find the victims. “For days there were telephonic and face-to-face with victims who told of their experience.” There were also other sources in the church who relayed information about sexual abuse

3.29 One source had made the abuse allegations public through a YouTube video (since deleted). She did not mention Mr Lukau by name; she informed other church leaders of her ordeal, but nothing was done.

3.30 Another victim (identified in the story as the victim of sexual assault) told the paper she had twice tried to report the matter to the police but her report was not taken seriously “and the case never went anywhere.”

3.31 City Press was aware that the allegations were of a serious nature and for this reason it spoke with a range of sources including former church leaders, as well as the alleged victims.

3.32 It had taken “due care to gather the facts and report the article in a fair and accurate manner”. The several people spoken to were “unrelated” to each other.

The story was based on more than just hearsay: there were primary “victims” and other sources who alleged that stories of “alleged abuses were common knowledge around the church but nothing was being done about them.”

3.33 Crime statistics indicate that South Africa has a “high rate of sexual abuse…[and]most of these cases are committed by people intimately known to the victims and many such cases are never reported to the police.”

This is why the “factual evidence” sought by Mr Lukau in the form of a formal charge was not forthcoming. In one instance where one victim “came out”, she was accused by those she confided in of “trying to undermine Mr Lukau and the church.”

Only those who had left the church spoke about the alleged abuse.

3.34 The article was not based on hearsay: City Press spoke to three victims who had been members of the church and their identities had been verified. The paper also interviewed two former elders. Some of the people were unknown to each other and it would be hard to believe they had fabricated evidence.

3.35 The headline and tweets and Facebook post “clearly and correctly captured the context of the story.

3.36 There were no “personal considerations” on the part of the reporter. The story accurately reflected information the paper had managed to verify.

3.37 Mr Lukau was given an opportunity to comment and “his response was almost captured in full”. It was precisely because of the possible harmful impact to Mr Lukau’s reputation that City Press published information that could be “independently verified outside of the three victims.”

3.38 All the victims had requested anonymity because they felt their lives were under threat, even five years after the abuse.

3.39 Mr Lubisi concedes that the third source – not put to Mr Sim or Mr Lukau – was only contacted after the reporter had asked for comment because her editors had asked her to track down another source. He admits this was never put to Mr Lukau for comment.

3.40 One victim had made clear her fears in a WhatsApp message that has been provided to the Ombudsman. After she had confided in a church leader, she was called a “’Jezebel’…I was threatened and told I was going to die. I left the church.”

3.41 It is true that the alleged victims only “came out now since there had been lots of coverage of Mr Lukau in the media… The world is replete with examples of women who only come out decades after such violation had happened.”

One woman mentioned in a WhatsApp message that she had tried twice to open a case against Mr Lukau but “the cases went nowhere.” (I have seen the message)

3.42 City Press did not rely on hearsay but spoke directly to the alleged victims. One put the newspaper in touch with “another source” who has been “vocal and exposed abuse in churches” including in radio interviews. His Movement Against Abusing Churches has helped victims such as Cheryl Zondi who laid charges against Nigerian pastor, Timothy Omotoso.

3.43 He denies City Press has transgressed the Press Code or caused “unnecessary harm.”

3.44 The headline was fair: it used the allegation in inverted commas, i.e. as a quote; the sub-head, which had the words ‘man of God’ in quotation marks indicates that the words emanate from someone else.

3.45 The information published was reported truthfully, fairly and accurately and not based on fabricated information ad claimed by Mr Lukau.

3.46 If Mr Lukau complains of the harm he and his family has suffered he should “ponder on…the effect that the victims continue to suffer. They live in fear.

Further arguments

The complainant

3.47 In a written response to City Press, Mr Sim said it appears that the “main source” the newspaper relied on is “an individual who has in the past been interdicted by the Johannesburg High Court from making wrongful and defamatory statements” about Mr Lukau and has also been found to be in contempt of court for breaching this interdict. [1]

3.48 There was no “substantiating evidence” in the response of any of the allegations.

3.49 The screenshots of the WhatsApp messages provided by City Press were problematic in three respects:

  • The conversation supposedly with the first teenage victim (presumably the one named as “Angela” in the article) says she will send the reporter a number and adds: “Just say you got it from a man who was a pastor at the church.”
  • The dates on the WhatsApp conversations are recorded in the screenshots as 23rd and 24th and 26th March but one is recorded as 26th October, which raises questions. (One is also recorded as 1 April but this is about the deletion of the YouTube video by the one victim) [I wrote to the reporter and Mr Lubisi asking about the anomaly of the October date but at the time of writing have had no reply]
  • One conversation does not relate to sexual abuse (but it does mention a threat of being killed) There is no response to a question about case numbers and police stations where charges were laid.
  • The inclusion of the screenshots of the WhatsApp conversations indicate there was no other substantiating evidence for the allegations.

3.50 Mr Sim also states the article was published on the 25th March and not the 24th as City Press says in its response (but the 25th was a Monday and the paper published on a Sunday).

3.51 Mr Sim again accuses the paper of not providing factual evidence or verification of the allegations.

Although it mentions “several sources”, there is no evidence that it gathered evidence from multiple sources.

The claim by the newspaper that it investigated a variety of sources is not supported by the reporter’s initial email to Mr Sim which states: “I have just received an email containing very serious allegations.” This indicates that its claim of a “thorough investigation” is false.

3.52 This was not the “follow-up” article City Press promised in relation to its first story.[2]

3.53 City Press admits that the YouTube video made by one of the alleged victims (now deleted) did not make reference to Mr Lukau.

3.54 In the written response and in a meeting with me, Mr Sim emphasized his concern that Mr Solomon Ashoms (who was interdicted by Mr Lukau) is the major source for the article. There was no proof that any were “former church leaders” and no proof of interviews with other sources. Messages from “different people” is not verification and further reinforces the idea that much of what was printed was based on hearsay.

The allegations were reported as the truth. City Press should have stated that the information was “doubtful and not verified.”

3.55 High crime statistics in relation to sexual abuse does not justify the publication of unconfirmed statements from anonymous sources accusing someone of sexual abuse. This is more pertinent when sources such as Mr Ashoms, have their own agendas and “ulterior motives”.

City Press did not manage to get case numbers or details of criminal cases opened.

This should have been a “red flag”. It is an indication of the “biased reporting” that it did not push for this information.

The article is based on hearsay, as evidenced by the sentence: “The woman gave City Press consent to speak to another source to tell her story”. Mr Sim suspects this was Mr Ashoms who had “malicious intent.”

“In essence City Press is assisting Mr Ashoms in furthering the contempt of court.”

3.56 Even though the headline (the sub-head in particular) contains words in inverted commas, it does not address the complaint that it was misleading.

3.57 Mr Sim argues that if the allegations in the article, which were not independently verified, was acceptable, “it would lead to a situation where the press has the freedom to publish any article where two or three anonymous sources “confirmed” an untrue statement.”

3.58 The fact that the allegations of the “third source” were only obtained after the interview with Mr Sim does not justify why the paper did not go back to him for a right of reply on those.

3.59 If anonymous sources are relied on “the bar of verification must certainly be raised”, as it deprived Mr Lukau of the right to pursue the sources for defamation.

3.60 There is no evidence of a case being opened.

3.61 He still maintains important aspects of Mr Lukau’s response were omitted.

  1. Analysis

4.1 This story – and case – is complex.

The allegations are indeed serious but, if reasonably true, are a matter of pressing public interest.

I held three lengthy meetings with the editor and reporter of City Press, as well as with Mr Sim to try to interrogate the truth of the story and the merits of the complaint.

Sources

4.2 Mr Sim believes the major source was Mr Ashoms, mentioned above, who was interdicted by the Johannesburg High Court, who published an apology and is currently on a contempt of court suspended sentence (apparently for “liking” a Facebook post critical of Mr Lukau and his church).

4.3 I asked the reporter for a list of her sources pertaining to these allegations. Apart from those mentioned in the finding in Case 4333, I spoke to three who had specific allegations about sexual harassment and, in one case, abuse.

4.4 Three, including the woman named as “Angela” in the story, the “married woman”, who worked at the church for several years with her husband, and the one who alleged she had been sexually assaulted, confirmed to me in broad outline what was reported in City Press. The “married woman” said she had worked at the church for 12 years (her husband was a pastor there) and, she said, “a couple of young ladies came to me and complained that he had had an affair (with) or taken advantage of them.”

4.5 She also said Mr Lukau “had made moves on” her. “I thought this is not on.”

She said “many” women had has this experience but were “scared” to take Mr Lukau to court. “They are scared of his spiritual powers.”

4.6 The woman named as “Angela” confirmed to me in a “WhatsApp” conversation some of the details reported in the paper. However, she told me she was not 16 at the time of the incident, as the paper reported, but 21. “I was 19 when I met him.”

This is what she told me: “Alph Lukau did not harass me. He asked me for sex. And I said no. And that was the end of my encounter with him. He did not rape me. He did not beat me. He did not do anything to me. I informed Ntombi (the reporter) that I do not have a case against him because he did not rape me, he simply asked me for sex and I said no” She had “run away” from the church after that incident, when she was 21, as she wanted to “save [herself]for marriage.”

4.7 The other source, referred to as “another young woman” in the church, made more serious allegations. She was the one who referred the reporter to a “close confidante”. However, I spoke to her directly.

She told me Mr Lukau had “forced himself” on her. The alleged incident took place at a hotel which she named as the “Capital something” in Sandton.  There are two hotels with the name “Capital” in them in Sandton I could find on Google Maps (Capital Hotel and Apartments and Capital 20 West).

She was part of the TV crew of the internal church’s Adonai TV and he had called her to say he wanted to “update” something in the video and asked her to come to the hotel.

The incident took place in August 2015.

Something felt strange. …and I was no longer going to the church that much. I said this to a friend and asked her to please stay around Sandton.

“He ended up forcing himself on me. That’s why I ended up leaving the church.”

She was 34 at the time.

4.8 She went to Midrand police station to try to lay a charge. She said the police recorded her complaint. When she went back a week later, the police could not find any record of it.

She had been told by other church members that Mr Lukau was extremely powerful and that the Minister of Police had even visited the church.

I could find evidence that the then Minister of Police, Nathi Nhleko had visited the church in January 2017 (which does not accord with her dates but this does not mean he did not visit before then), and that even then president Jacob Zuma had visited the church in November 2016.[3]

4.9 In any event, she decided it would be safer not pursue charges, especially as some time later, she went back to her Johannesburg apartment and discovered it had been locked from the outside. A friend helped her open it and she left Johannesburg and went to live in another province where she is now studying.

She is still clearly terrified of the pastor and told me other stories, which I will not repeat here as they would be indeed “hearsay”.

4.10 But it is clear that Mr Lukau, for some people, is enveloped in both mythical and possibly real powers and influences.

My only prayer is that everyone I recruited to the church will see this guy for who he really is,” she said.

4.11 It took some time to track her down, and more to try to convince her to speak with me. Whether the fear is justified or not, it is certainly palpable, and she seemed a credible source.

4.12 This said, it is not clear that City Press applied sufficient rigor to such a serious story. Allegations of sexual assault are among the gravest one can make.

4.13 The argument that Mr Lubisi made that rape is a common and under-reported crime may well be true in a general sense, but it is specious when using it to justify a specific complaint against a specific individual. In fact, it is no argument at all to prove the truthfulness or otherwise of this article.

4.14 Furthermore, there were details of the reporting that lacked precision. I asked the reporter what it meant when she said in her article that the police cases “went nowhere” and she was vague. She also did not know which police station the alleged victim had laid a charge at but “thought” it may have been Bramley.

As I ascertained it was in fact Midrand.

She also got the age of “Angela” wrong. There is a difference in a case of alleged sexual harassment between a 16-year-old and a 21-year-old. Moreover, “Angela” confirmed what Mr Sim had told me: there were no glass doors on Mr Lukau’s office in 2013, as described in the article.

I was also not impressed by Ms Makhoba’s rather off-hand response to the offer of an interview after City Press’s first story (“We don’t work on Mondays”) as described in the finding for complaint number 4333.

An interview with the subject of critical reportage is not only to give that subject a right of response but it is also to confirm details (such as the “glass doors”) that can help a journalist arrive at a better picture of the truth.

4.15 One of the major international stories of sexual assault and harassment, perpetuated by a powerful man, film producer Harvey Weinstein, was reported painstakingly over a long period by Ronan Farrow who managed to name victims, provide corroboration, and ensure that details were correct.[4]

I am aware that South African newspapers don’t have anything like the resources available to such publications as the New Yorker, but it is worth remembering that Farrow pursued the story doggedly for years even though it was turned down by his own employer at the time.

 

4.16 It is quite true that rape and sexual assault are egregious crimes often committed by powerful men, but false claims are extremely damaging to individuals and great care should be taken to verify details before printing them.

 

Right of reply

 

4.17 In this case, unlike the previous story, City Press approached Mr Lukau’s lawyers at a more reasonable time (Friday in the early afternoon) for comment, rather than just hours before deadline.

Nonetheless, the paper should have gone back to him for comment with allegations from the third source. This is basic fairness.

4.18 The woman named as “Angela” did not mention anything to me about the pastor “demanding wild sex”: she mentioned more crisply that he had asked her for sex and she had said no. This is not to say she did not tell the reporter this, but her tone was somewhat different.

4.19 In any event, the allegations in the email to Mr Lukau from the reporter did sound far-fetched. It would have made a significant difference to the credibility of the investigation if Ms Makhoba had actually had a one-on-one interview with the pastor.

4.20 There is also a basic level of courtesy in her approach that was lacking – from saying “we don’t work Mondays” in response to the offer in the first story, to demanding “When is he going to give us a sit-down interview?” in the second.

This is simply a comment, as courtesy is not a clause in the Press Code.

Headline

4.21 The sub-head: “Allegations emerge of sexual abuse of young girls by ‘man of God’ at is church” is misleading. In fact, City Press only confirmed that one such case was reasonably true. The other two sources complained about sexual harassment. There is a difference between the two.

  1. Finding

5.1 In spite of the above, the sources I spoke to confirm the broad allegations reported in the story. There were certain key details that were wrong or missing (such as the age of the first victim and the police station a complaint was laid at).

But the allegations presented, from separate sources were “reasonably true” and were presented as allegations.

5.2 It would have added credibility to the article, had the paper spoken to the police in more detail as well (in the first story, the newspaper reported that the police were investigating “allegations of sexual assault” but in fact the paper admitted later that these were allegations of “sexual harassment”)

The fact that women have complained about sexual harassment (and in one case sexual assault) seems reasonably true from my consultation with the reporter’s sources.

5.3 However, the incorrect details and the omission of following up on the police case is not acceptable in such an important story.

In terms of clause 1.2 of the Press Code, that the media needs to present news in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization”, the newspaper is wanting.

5.4 It also should have presented the claims of the third source, the “married woman”, to Mr Lukau. Although it did approach him for the right of reply, it should have put these claims to him too.

5.5. The sub-head was also misleading; there was no evidence that more than one woman had complained of “abuse” either in the story or from the reporter’s own sources.

The newspaper should thus apologise for not pursuing comment from the police for details of what had happened in regard to the complaint the alleged victim of sexual assault had laid.

It should also apologise for a misleading sub-head and make it clear that it only ascertained sexual “abuse” allegations from one source not many.

It should also apologise for not putting all the allegations of the third source  to him for his response.

These are Tier 2 offences. The newspaper’s apology should be published on the same page as the original print story and online and be approved by the Ombudsman.

The rest of the complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

The 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.

Pippa Green

Press Ombudsman

August 31st, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] This would be Mr Solomon Izang Ashoms; interdicted by Mr Lukau and also sentenced to a 20-day suspended sentence for being in contempt of court; see Finding 4333: http://www.presscouncil.org.za/pastor-alph-lukau-and-alleluia-ministries-international-vs-city-press/

 

[2] Ibid

[3] See https://rosebankkillarneygazette.co.za/207154/man-of-cloth-honours-men-in-blue/ for the visit of then police minister Nathi Nhleko and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJ4JeImBhS8 from the church’s own TV footage for the visit of then President Zuma.

[4] Farrow, Ronan: “From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey, Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories”, New Yorker, October 23, 2017 https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/from-aggressive-overtures-to-sexual-assault-harvey-weinsteins-accusers-tell-their-stories