Sandile Memela vs Sowetan

Complainant: Sandile Memela

Article: Thabo Leshilo refuted Memela’s allegation that he was not appointed editor of Sunday World because of his authentic                   black views

Date: 12 June 2008

Respondent: Sowetan

The Complaint
Mr Memela complains about three paragraphs, which are a caption to the picture of Sowetan editor-in-chief Thabo Leshilo, used on Page 16 of Sowetan of March 6, 2008, accompanying a story on the Human Rights Commission’s hearing on the Forum of Black Journalists and Racism.
Leshilo’s was one of the head and shoulder pictures of some of the participants at the hearing used with quotations from their contributions at the hearing.
The caption to Leshilo’s picture reads:
“Thabo Leshilo refuted Memela’s allegation that he was not appointed editor of Sunday World because of his authentic black views.
“‘You are being economical with the truth,’ said Leshilo. He added that Memela did not become an editor because ‘he did not cut it’.
“Leshilo suggested Memela take his case to the HRC at which he would be willing to testify, to set the record straight.”
Memela alleges the remarks are “not only out of context but unlawful, unfair and defamatory to my person, reputation and integrity”.
He alleges that after he had been promised space by the letters page editor of Sowetan, Leshilo refused to publish his letter. He believes he was not given the opportunity to present his side of the story about the reasons he was not appointed editor of the Sunday World.
This ruling is made by the Press Ombudsman in terms of Section 2.4 of the Complaints Procedures: “If the complaint is not settled within 14 days of its notification to the respondent, the Ombudsman may, if it is reasonable not to hear the parties, decide the matter on the papers.”
Memela did not spell out his allegations in terms of the SA Press Code, but in sum he alleges breaches of Sections 1.1 – “The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly” – and 1.5 – “A publication should usually seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication….”
Memela alleges that the three paragraphs “were intended to create the impression that (1) I was making false claims to the HRC, (2) I am a failed journalist, (3) I am not worthy of being an editor of a newspaper, (4) the profession is all the better that he ‘forced me out’ of the industry, (5) I am a corrupt and unscrupulous”.
He alleges that Leshilo had been ruled out of order at the HRC hearing and his remarks should not have been published.
In his brief response Leshilo argued that Sowetan published what both he and Memela said at a public forum and the report was factual. He denied he had been ruled out of order by the chairperson at the hearing.
“That he did not like what I said about him does not automatically entitle him to the right of reply,” Leshilo argued in his response.
In addition to the papers submitted by the two parties, the Ombudsman has looked at the transcript of the HRC hearing and it bears out Leshilo’s story.
Memela told the HRC “how the leadership and management in newsrooms in this country, especially by black editors has revealed that they have internalised racism and… they do that because they want to preserve their material interests….”
“As far as I am concerned the prerequisite to rise in the ranks as a black journalist in this country is to be in the side of those who are in power,” the transcript of Memela’s contribution reads.
This is captured accurately in the caption of Memela’s picture in the Sowetan story:
“FBJ member and current Ministry of Arts and Culture spokesman Sandile Memela: ‘Black editors have internalised racism and are acting against any voice that expresses black opinion. To progress in the media one must agree with those in power.’ ”
After some intervening speakers at the HRC hearing, according to the transcript, Leshilo responded to Memela, telling the commission that its platform had been used by Memela to make allegations that could not be sustained and could not go unchallenged.
The caption that Memela is complaining about accurately quotes what Leshilo told the Commission.
At the end of his input, the chairperson thanks Leshilo and calls the next speaker. It is at this point that a commotion erupts on the floor as people accuse each other of lying and the chairperson has to call for order, bearing out Mr Leshilo’s version of events and disproving Memela’s.
The complaint is dismissed.
The Sowetan is not in breach of the South African Press Code. It reported truthfully, accurately and fairly on the proceedings at the HRC and Memela was not entitled to a right of reply in these circumstances.
Within seven days of receipt of this decision, any one of the parties may apply for leave to appeal to the chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, and the grounds of appeal shall be fully set.
Joe Thloloe
Press Ombudsman