Tony Yengeni vs Sunday Sun

Complainant:  Tony Yengeni

Lodged by:  Waheen Badrodien of Davidson & Badrodien Attorneys

Article:  Hot babe & cold war! – Tony and Cashflow ‘ignore each other’

Author of article:  Kgomotso Moganedi

Date: 6 June 2016

Respondent:  Johan Vos, deputy editor of the Sunday Sun newspaper 

Complaint

Yengeni is complaining about a story on page 5 in the Sunday Sun of 28 February 2016, headlined Hot babe & cold war! – Tony and Cashflow ‘ignore each other’.

He complains the article falsely stated that he:

·         had been dating Ms Dineo Makalima and that he had been embroiled in a war with businessman Jabulani “Cashflow” Ngcobo – both of whom had been unknown to him;

·         repeatedly flew to Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Limpopo for “baecations” – he calls this a ploy to spread lies about him and insists that the newspaper lists the steps it took to have this statement confirmed and corroborated by a source, and also that Sunday Sun provides details about times, dates and places;

·         and Cashflow were (on January 8, during the ANC’s 104th birthday celebration) both at News Café, but they “didn’t speak to each other” – he also wants to know how the newspaper has corroborated this information.

Yengeni concludes that the story was an attack on his integrity and reputation, and says that his privacy and dignity has been violated.

The text

The story, written by Kgomotso Moganedi, said that ANC veteran Tony Yengeni was allegedly embroiled in a nasty cold war with businessman Jabulani “Cashflow” Ngcobo over a woman (Dineo Makalima).

The article quoted three unnamed sources, and Yengeni reportedly saying, “I don’t know any of them.”

The arguments

Vos says Yengeni is a public figure “and therefore it was in the public interest to publish the article”.

He adds that the newspaper had three reliable sources – whom my office may contact, on condition of anonymity.

The deputy editor submits some pictures, which (he claims) linked Makalima and Yengeni (at the News Café). “This is a clear indication that [Yengeni] has been in the company of Dineo Makalima, although he denies knowing her,” he argues.

Vos submits Sunday Sun has corroborated its information with a source who witnessed the event, that the newspaper was sure the story was reasonably true, and the story attributed the information to sources.

Yengeni disputes the authenticity of the picture that Vos presented to this office. He says it is an assumption that the person featured in the photograph was indeed Makalima and that there is no proof that it was taken on January 8.

He says Vos did not state the basis for his reliance on the veracity of the pictures or the reporter’s account of the alleged events, or that he had confirmed the date and time the picture was taken. “This is something that is quite easy to establish. It is accordingly disputed that the newspaper could have believed the article to be reasonably true,” he argues.

Yengeni adds that Vos failed to deal with the allegations that he was embroiled in a war with Cashflow, that he was dating Makalima, and that he had repeatedly flown to destinations for “baecations”.

He says he was in Cape Town on January 8, where he attended a function at Overture, Stellenbosch, and that his friends Kagiso and Onica Mtjila and Ntlantla Ngwenya accompanied him on that occasion.

On January 9 he attended a social gathering with Connel Ngcukana, who had hosted a traditional event at his homestead in Cape Town.

Yengeni sent this office pictures on which the date and time appears to prove his point.

He concludes it is clear that the report was fabricated.

Analysis

I am concerned about Vos’s statement that Yengeni was a public figure “and therefore it was in the public interest to publish the article”.

It is the word “therefore” that poses the problem. This implies that anything goes, provided the subject is a public figure. While it certainly is true that public figures do not enjoy the same level of privacy than ordinary citizens, for reasons widely accepted, it is also not correct to think or imply that they do not enjoy privacy at all.

Having said that, I am faced with a difficult situation, as both parties claim some kind of “evidence” to prove their points.

Therefore, I have asked Vos to make good on his promise, and he duly supplied me with three names, their relevance to the case, and their contact numbers.

I am satisfied that these sources seem to be credible and knowledgeable. Consequently, there is no way that I can rule against the newspaper on this issue. I note that none of the statements in dispute was stated as fact in the article – all of them were attributed to sources.

The pictures provided by Yengeni, together with the dates, are contentious. I have no way of knowing that those dates are authentic.

Please note I am not saying that the story was accurate; I am saying, though that the newspaper was reasonable in reporting the article with the sources at its disposal because, at the time of publication, it had reason to believe that the story was essentially true.

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