Advocate Pogiso Monchusi vs Potchefstroom Herald

Complainant: ‘Advocate Pogiso Monchusi

Lodged by: ‘Advocate Pogiso Monchusi

Article: Senior legal officer of Tlokwe Municipality suspended

Author of article: Victor Boqo

Date: 3 April 2014

Respondent: Potchefstroom Herald

Complaint

Monchusi is complaining about a story published in Potchefstroom Herald on 7 February 2014, headlined Senior legal officer of Tlokwe Municipality suspended.

He complains that the article incorrectly implied that he had been suspended for spending R4,5 million on legal opinions. He calls the story “misleading, inaccurate, malicious and defamatory by its very nature”.

Analysis

The story, written by Victor Boqo, stated: “When the ANC in Tlokwe Municipality regained its power, its first mission was a clean-up campaign of top officials who are anti-Maphetle Maphetle.” The journalist reported that Monchusi’s job (the municipality’s legal advisor) was also on the line and that he had been on precautionary suspension since January 31 pending an internal investigation.

The part in dispute followed immediately thereafter: “It is alleged that the municipality spent R4,5 million on legal opinions in just six months, while they have a legal officer (Monchusi) at their disposal.”

Stander explains that the story was based on what a councillor said in a meeting, “namely – why is it that the council has to pay R4,5 m on legal opinions when they (the council) have a legal advisor (Mr Monchusi)”.

In this instance I need to take two issues into account – that of accuracy, and fairness.

I believe that, if one looks at the sentences on their own, in isolation, they are both correct (accurate) – it is a fact that Monchusi was on precautionary suspension, and I accept that a councillor questioned the spending of R4,5 million by the municipality (note: not by its legal adviser) on legal advice in six months (although it would have been clearer if the story stated this information).

On the other hand, one should also view the matter in its proper context, as the allegation of the spending of that money followed immediately after the reporting of his precautionary suspension.

While I accept that Boqo had the councillor in mind when he reported the allegation of R4,5 million and probably did not mean to put that forward as a reason for Monchusi’s precautionary suspension, I also need to keep in mind that readers may have misunderstood the matter (believing that Monchusi was suspended because of the spending).

Footnote: The letter by the Tlokwe City Council, addressed to Monchusi, dated 28 January 2014 and headlined Intention to Suspend, listed eight alleged transgressions. This document does not mention an amount of R4,5 million.

Finding

I do not believe that the newspaper was in breach of the Press Code. However, I am also convinced that the nature of the reporting was such that readers may have misunderstood this matter. It therefore requires some sort of clarification.

Sanction

The newspaper is asked to publish the following text:

On 7 February 2014 we published a story headlined Senior legal officer of Tlokwe Municipality suspended.

The article stated: “When the ANC in Tlokwe Municipality regained its power, its first mission was a clean-up campaign of top officials who are anti-Maphetle Maphetle.” The journalist reported that Adv. Pogiso Monchusi’s job (the municipality’s legal advisor) was also on the line and that he had been on precautionary suspension since January 31 pending an internal investigation. This was followed by the next sentence: “It is alleged that the municipality spent R4,5 million on legal opinions in just six months, while they have a legal officer at their disposal.”

Monchusi complained that this falsely implied that he was suspended because of the spending of this money. We are happy to clarify the matter: The allegation of the spending of that amount of money referred to a statement by a councillor and had nothing to do with Monchusi’s precautionary suspension.

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 Adjudication Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds for the application. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman