Gerald Majola vs Sunday Times

Compliant: Gerald Majola

Lodged by: Boqwana Loon & Connellan

Article: Protea land killer blow

Author of article: Luke Alfred

Date: 28 February 2012

Respondent: Sunday Times

Complaint
Cricket South Africa’s CEO Gerald Majola complains about a column in the Sunday Times, published on 18 December 2011 and headlined Protea land killer blow.
Majola complains about the sentence that reads: “He (Protea bowler Vernon Philander) has taken to test cricket with the same alacrity that Gerald Majola awards himself bonuses.”
He says that this insertion was:
  • stated as a conclusion of facts, which was false and untrue;
  • made with malicious intent, sought to portray him as corrupt, unethical, and as a person with low morals who disregards policy and who was undeserving to be in his position; and
  • defamatory of his good name, character and reputation.
Analysis
The column, written by Luke Alfred, hails an emphatic win by the Proteas against Sri Lanka and especially praises newcomer Philander, who did exceptionally well in that match. It is within this context that Alfred wrote the sentence in dispute.
I shall now look at the merits of the complaint:
Stated as conclusion of facts
Majola complains that Alfred stated the disputed remark as a conclusion of facts, whilst the journalist knew that this was false and untrue. He argues that even a cursory investigation would have easily obtained the facts from his employers or from his submissions at the Ministerial enquiry that was underway at the time.
The Sunday Times replies that the remark is “comment based on facts”. It argues that it relied on a KPMG report into bonuses, as well as on a judgment by Justice Phineas Mojapelo in which Dr Mtutuzeli Nyoka was reinstated as president of Cricket South Africa.
The newspaper states: “In brief, Mr Majola negotiated bonuses for himself (and others) in respect of two cricket tournaments, without disclosing these to CSA’s Remuneration Committee. Remco, being unaware of these bonuses then awarded him performance bonuses in respect of the two tournaments. He was according (sic) paid two bonuses for each of the events.”
It adds that:
  • the information was already in the public domain; and
  • Majola does not deny that he received bonuses without informing Remco – “although he once did” (deny it).
To this, Majola replies that:
  • the KPMG report has not been subjected to any scrutiny and has thus far not been accepted by CSA;
  • he rejects the notion that he negotiated and paid bonuses for himself, and that he failed to disclose these “bonuses” to Remco (as no such requirement was necessary);
  • all facts and accounts were disclosed to the Board;
  • the payment was not a bonus, but was made for services rendered – which was confirmed by the Board and paid to him after an investigation by the Board; and
  • the Mojapelo judgment contain “no proven facts or findings by the court to support the Sunday Times’ contention” – the journalist, he argues, chose a portion of the Court’s submission and published that as a fact.
Firstly, regarding the Mojapelo verdict: Under the heading Sequence of Events, the judge makes no bones about it that Majola did receive bonuses from the IPL and the International Cricket Council (ICC), and that he did not disclose it. He does not mince his words or beat about the bush – the states the above as facts.
If a judge makes statements of fact such as these, it is reasonable for a journalist to take that as the truth and to base his opinion on that.
In light of this, it does not even matter what the KPMG report says, or what its status was at the time of publication.
I also take into account that this matter was very much in the public domain at the time.
Malicious intent
Majola complains that the remark in question was made with malicious intent, and sought to portray him as corrupt, unethical, and as a person with low morals who disregards policy and who was undeserving to be in his position.
Sunday Times says that there is no basis for this allegation. It adds that it made no comment on whether or not Majola was justified in obtaining the bonuses in the manner in which he did.
Majola replies that the journalist has made repeated allegations against him without giving him an opportunity to respond. He adds: “His malicious intent is proved by the fact that, in the middle of a story, on a different subject, (he) includes a sentence that is defamatory” of him.
This matter is quite straightforward: Alfred merely reflected what the judge has asserted – if the journalist was malicious, so was the judge.
Also:
  • I cannot adjudicate “repeated allegations”, as the complaint at hand is about one, single column;
  • It is not customary for a columnist to give the subject of his text a chance to respond; and
  • It is not uncommon for columnists to make an interjection such as the one in dispute; and such an interjection certainly does not prove malice, by default.
Defamatory
Majola complains that the remark in question defames his good name, character and reputation.
The newspaper denies this.
I have to accept the judge’s factual description of the sequence of events as the truth. This means that Alfred’s comment cannot be defamatory, as one cannot defame somebody else with the truth.
Finding
The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.
Sanction
There is no sanction.
Appeal
Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, anyone of the parties may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman