Drs Reza and Ridwan Mia, as well as Mr Sayed Mia vs The Star

Complainant: Drs Reza and Ridwan Mia, as well as Mr Sayed Mia

Lodged by: Drs Reza and Ridwan Mia, as well as Mr Sayed Mia

Article: Sacked official wants all charges dropped – Accused denies claims of having received two cars.

Author of article: Baldwin Ndaba

Date: 4 July 2014

Respondent: The Star

Complaint

They complain that the:

·         mentioning of R40-million in connection with fraud and corruption charges was false/misleading;

·         use of the picture including the two doctors Mia was irrelevant and unnecessarily harmful; and

·         mentioning of the views of the whistleblower was portraying them as facts, thus prejudicing the court case (which was about fraud and corruption).

The text

The story, written by Baldwin Ndaba, reported that a sacked national Department of Public Works official (Mr Desmond Simamane), who was facing fraud and corruption charges involving R40-million “along with Joburg property mogul Sayed Hoosen Mia”, wanted all charges against him dropped.

This article referred back to another article, published on 2 October 2013, where a picture of Sayed Mia was used prominently, together with a smaller one of the father and his two sons. The story in dispute used these same pictures.

Analysis

R40 million false, misleading

The Mias merely state that they are dissatisfied with the “repeat of the amount of R40m”. Regarding the earlier story they say that this amount has not been stated in the charge sheet – which leads me to believe that their complaint boils down to the mentioning of this amount as being false and/or misleading.

Ndaba says that he got his information from the legal advisor to the Minister.

My considerations

I spoke to the journalist, and I have no reason not to believe him. I take into account that his source surely was senior and authoritative – and therefore it was reasonable for Ndaba to have taken his word as gospel.

This does not mean that I necessarily believe that the R40-million was correct. I am merely applying the principle of reasonableness.

A word of caution is appropriate, though. It would have been safer if Ndaba attributed his information to a source, instead of stating it as fact. If future developments show that the R40-million was not correct, I would expect The Star to correct this issue (without the direction of this office).

The pictures

The Mias complain that the use of the picture was irrelevant and unnecessarily harmful to the two brothers and state that the story did not mention them at all. They add: “This article is about Simamane, yet [Sayed Mia’s] image was used.” They argue that the use of this picture and its placement (quite prominently) suggest that they are part of a syndicate. They also object to their picture being used without their permission. “This deliberate act is vindictive and is unbecoming of an editor of a newspaper.”

Smith replies that it was not gratuitous or unexpected to have used the brothers Mia’s images to accompany a story about the legal woes of their father. She says the latter cited his two sons in an affidavit (saying that they were successful medical doctors). On the basis of this argument (and others), the father was granted bail. She argues that the newspaper was therefore fully within its rights to have used their images, and notes that the story did refer to the two doctors.

Ndaba adds: “I also need to point out that he chose to single out the two doctors. His youngest son is also a professional but chose to emphasise the medical qualifications of two [of his sons]to the surprise of people in the gallery.”

My considerations

I submit that:

·         it is not true that the story was about Simamane alone as it was also about Sayed Mia – the newspaper was therefore fully within its rights to publish his picture;

·         even though the story itself did not refer to his two sons, Sayed chose to do so in his affidavit – the newspaper’s argument on this point is therefore convincing;

·         there is no indication in the story that Sayed’s two sons were part of a syndicate – that would imply that Simamane and Sayed had already been found guilty, while instead the brothers were mentioned because of the fact that they were well-known; and

·         the publication was not obliged to get their permission to publish their pictures – surely, it is not normal journalistic practice to do so.

Therefore, I have no reason to believe that the editor was vindictive and that his conduct was unbecoming.

Views of source portrayed as facts, prejudicing the court case

The Mias complain that the story portrayed the views of the whistleblower as facts and, in so doing, was prejudicing the court case.

My considerations

It is simply not true that the story presented the whistleblower’s views as facts. Instead, Ndaba specifically stated that he was quoting from a letter by this source.

Secondly, if the publication of the whistleblower’s views were prejudicing the court case, surely that is a matter for the court, not the Press Code.

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

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman