Collen Weapnd vs Sunday World

Complainant: Collen Weapnd

Lodged by: Collen Weapnd

Article: NLB stands by ‘risky’ member – Former bank employee found to have poor credit record

Author of article: Sixoliswiwe Ndawo

Date: 19 April 2014

Respondent: Sunday World

COMPLAINT

Weapond, a member of the National Lotteries Board (NLB), is complaining about a page 4 story published in Sunday World on 30 March 2014, headlined NLB stands by ‘risky’ member – Former bank employee found to have poor credit record.

He complains that some statements in the story were inaccurate; he also refers in this regard specifically to Absa (all details of these complaints below).

He adds that the newspaper omitted material information that the journalist had at her disposal.

THE STORY

The story, written by Sixoliswiwe Ndawo, stated that the NLB admitted that it had failed to take action against Weapond – even though he had been investigated for serious misconduct by his employers (Absa).

ANALYSIS

‘Inaccurate’ statements

Weapond complains about some “inaccurate” statements in the story, and replies to them as follows:

The story                                                        Weapond’s arguments

The NLB “has admitted that it failed to take action” against him. The NLB cannot take action against him after he resigned subsequent to an (“unbalanced”) investigation by his former employers (Barclays Africa) – this statement misrepresented the NLB’s position (as there never was an obligation on it to act against him).
He holds an M.Tech degree. He denies that he holds an M.Tech degree, and states that he has never claimed that he did – his degree was partially completed and he has not yet handed in his dissertation.
“Records show that Weapond had credit judgments against him for owing institutions such as the University of North West, Woolworths, Nedbank, FNB and Stonehedge Mews Body Corporate” Records only showed the University of North West and Stonehedge – the rest of the allegations were inflated.

 

He “only declared that he owed Discovery Health”. He says he also stated that he owed FNB “even though it did not reflect on the ITC record that I had”.
He “was served with a letter to appear before a disciplinary committee in October 2011, but resigned before the process unfolded”. After he had attended a first disciplinary hearing he realized that he would not receive a fair disciplinary hearing – he therefore resigned.

 

An “ICT” report was mentioned. It was an ITC report, not one from ICT.

Milazi replies that:

  • the NLB’s website states that Weapond holds an M.Tech degree;
  •  the spelling of ICT instead of ITC was a mere typographical error; and
  • it was not for Weapond to dispute the paragraph about the NLB admitting that it had failed to do a background check on him, as the newspaper quoted somebody else in this regard (whose name was stated in the story).

Weapond responds that the NLB has “not admitted in writing or during our interview session with the Sunday World Newspaper that it failed to take action against me”. He also notes that the story did not attribute this sentence to a source, but stated it as fact.

My considerations

I shall deal with these issues one by one:

Firstly, about the statement that the NLB “has admitted that it failed to take action” against Weapond: It is not true, as the editor attests, that the story ascribed this statement to a source. In the introduction, the story states it as fact (without any attribution).

Later in the story the chairman of the NLB is quoted as saying that the Board was fully behind Weapond, that the matter did not result in an audit finding against the NLB, and that the Board held firmly to the principle that all credible allegations had to be investigated. There is no indication whatsoever that the NLB has “admitted that it failed to take action”.

I also note that the newspaper has not:

  • provided me with any proof to substantiate its claim;
  • verified the statement in dispute; and
  • asked Weapond for his comment on this issue.

Therefore, not only do I believe the introduction was devoid of truth, but also that it was sensational and unfair to both Weapond and the NLB.

The next issue: The mere fact that the NLB’s website says (it does) that Weapond holds an M.Tech degree was enough justification for Sunday World to report this as fact. I certainly do not expect the newspaper to check all information appearing on an official website.

If Weapond does not have an M.Tech degree, he should not complain to this office about the matter, but rather rectify it with the NLB.

Thirdly, the story stated: “Records show that Weapond had credit judgments against him for owing institutions such as the University of North West, Woolworths, Nedbank, FNB and Stonehedge Mews Body Corporate.”

Weapond complains that records only showed the University of North West and Stonehedge – the rest of the allegations were inflated.

That is not true. According to a Barclays document at my disposal the claims in the sentence in dispute are correct.

Discovery Health: The newspaper cannot be held responsible for stating that Weapond declared only that he owed money to Discovery Health – he admits that the ICT’s records did not reflect his declaration that he owed money to other institutions.

Fifthly: Weapond’s complaint that the statement that he “was served with a letter to appear before a disciplinary committee in October 2011, but resigned before the process unfolded” was incorrect, is rather baffling – he admits that he resigned “before the process unfolded”… Even if there is some technicality here that Weapond omitted to clarify (and which I therefore may be missing), I still believe that the story was essentially correct on this point.

Lastly: The incorrect reference to “ICT” instead of “ITC” is not material and can in no way affect the gist of the story.

‘Inaccurate’ statements: Weapond, Absa

Weapond complains about some statements regarding his alleged relationship with Absa, and replies to them as follows:

The story                                                        Weapond’s arguments

He remains a board member of the NLB “even after he resigned from Absa …” He was never employed by Absa (and therefore he could not have resigned from that bank).
His “troubles at Absa started in 2011 when an internal investigation of his integrity raised red flags”.

 

The records were those of Barclays; he told the journalist that the investigation was “started incorrectly” – information that the journalist “intentionally omitted to make me look shady”.
“The Absa investigation found … that Weapond had failed to declare his poor credit record to his employers and that he allegedly had lied to the University of Cape Town, saying that the bank was going to pay for his studies before he got written confirmation from his bosses” Absa never conducted an investigation into his credit record status – Barclays did.

 

The bank “had promised to pay for him”.

 

It was Barclays Africa, and not Absa, that had undertaken to pay for him.

The editor replies that Barclays never had offices in South Africa. He also says that Absa never disputed having employed Weapond – “so the Barclays/Absa issue is a matter of technicality”.

Weapond responds that Barclays (Africa) indeed has an office in this country (in Illovo, Johannesburg). He adds that the story itself quoted Absa as saying that he had been employed by Barclays at the time. He also says that the NLB’s website is in error about his so-called M.Tech degree – he was merely correcting this mistake.

My considerations

The gist of Weapond’s complaint is that the story, on several counts, referred inaccurately to Absa, instead of to Barclays.

I understand the editor’s reference to “a matter of technicality”, as Barclays owns Absa (which a full subsidiary of the former). Be that as it may, it remains a mistake.

Having said that, I do not believe that these mistakes have caused Weapond some serious, unnecessary harm.

Material information omitted

Weapond complains that the newspaper omitted material information that he did provide to its journalist.

His only reference in his correspondence to this office regarding this matter is the investigation by Barclays (which he says “was started incorrectly”). “This information was intentionally omitted and this gap in information does not seek to provide an accurate account of events.”

He also complains that Ndawo did not provide a truthful perspective of all the documentation that she had at her disposal, of a discussion between himself and the chairman of the NLB, and of an interview by the journalist.

The omission of this information is not material to the story – the article was not about the legality of Barclays’ investigation, but rather about the NLB who stood by its “risky” member despite his allegedly poor credit record.

FINDING

‘Inaccurate’ statements

The statement, as fact, that the NLB “has admitted that it failed to take action” against Weapond was unsubstantiated and in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

  • 2.1: “The press shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”;
  • 2.4: “Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified”; and
  • 2.5 “A publication shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication …”

The other complaints under this section are dismissed.

‘Inaccurate’ statements: Weapond, Absa

The story inaccurately referred to Absa instead of Barclays, throughout. This is in breach of Section 2.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall take care to report news … accurately …”

Material information omitted

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

SANCTION

Sunday World is:

  • directed to apologise to Weapond for stating that the NLB admitted that it had failed to take action against him;
  • cautioned for incorrectly referring to Absa instead of to Barclays;
  • requested to publish such text on page 4;
  • asked to provide our office with the text prior to publication; and
  • required to end the text with the following words: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.”

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 appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman