Winnie Khumalo vs Sunday Sun

Complainant:  Winnie Khumalo

Lodged by:  Mr Rhulani Mudau, on behalf of Ms Winnie Khumalo

Article:  Winnie struck with another heavy blow

Author of article:  Philani Mzila

Date: 19 May 2016

Respondent:  Johan Vos, deputy editor of the Sunday Sun

Complaint                                                       

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Rhulani Mudau, on behalf of Ms Winnie Khumalo, and those of Johan Vos, deputy editor of the Sunday Sun newspaper.

Singer and former artist Khumalo is complaining about a story in the Sunday Sun of 8 May 2016, headlined Winnie struck with another heavy blow.

She complains that the story falsely portrayed that she had been:

·         in an accident in which a pedestrian had died; and

·         traumatized (she did not even see the body).

She also complains that the article got the model of her vehicle wrong.

The text

The story, written by Philani Mzila, was about a road accident in which a pedestrian died. It reported, “It was said [Khumalo] was with her male ‘friend’ Rhulani Mudau, in a BMW 5 Series and the accident left a pedestrian dead.”

The arguments

Mudau says Khumalo and he were travelling on a highway when he realized that a pedestrian had been run over and was lying in the middle of the road.

He says he stopped and jumped out of his car, and realized that the man was dead. Another driver also stopped to help. Mudau says he ran back to his car to phone for assistance. While he was in the car, he saw how another vehicle ran over the body, leaving the man headless, after which an Audi collided with his (parked) car.

He provided me with pictures of the car, which show dents at the back of the vehicle.

Mudau concludes the story falsely stated that it was “their” accident.

Vos says the newspaper gave Khumalo a right of reply, but she told the reporter she had been instructed not to speak to anyone about the incident (because someone had died).

The deputy editor says:

·         Khumalo did not deny that someone had died in an accident;

·         the investigating officer confirmed that a pedestrian had died; and

·         the information from the newspaper’s sources was that Mudau and Khumalo had been in an accident, and the reporter was not aware that several cars had been involved in the incident.

Vos concedes that the journalist got the model of the car wrong, and offers a follow-up article to explain what had happened.

Mudau refused to accept this offer and asked for adjudication.

Analysis

The whole story – not only a sentence or two – portrayed Khumalo as having been in an accident in which a pedestrian had died, leaving little or no doubt that the man had died as a result of her crash.

I do not have concrete evidence that Mudau and Khumalo did not run over the unfortunate man (I have not even seen the front of their car), but I take into account that:

·         the journalist was not on the scene, but relied on “sources”;

·         the reporter did not even know that other vehicles were involved in the incident; and

·         Khumalo’s car was dented at the back.

While I am not the investigating officer and it is therefore not my job to establish what exactly happened, it is possible that the journalist has prematurely jumped to conclusions – which may have caused both Khumalo and Mudau some unnecessary harm.

Mzila should certainly have been much more careful and circumspect in reporting the story – but that, in itself, does not necessarily lead to a breach of the Code of Ethics and Conduct.

This leaves me between a rock and a hard place – I am now asked to make a decision prior to the outcome of a Police investigation. Not only would that be inappropriate, but it would also be irresponsible.

Given this situation, I am left with only one option.

Finding

I am reserving my judgment until I have been informed of the outcome of the Police investigation.

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