Inkatha Freedom Party vs Isolezwe

Complainant: Inkatha Freedom Party

Lodged by:  Liezl van der Merwe

Article: Inkatha awaits Prince’s decision (translated)

Author of article: Celani Sikhakhane

Date: 30 October 2013

Respondent: Isolezwe

Complaint

The IFP complains about a story in Isolezwe on 11 September 2013, headlined Inkatha awaits Prince’s decision (translated).

The party complains that the reporter omitted material information (provided by two of its senior officials) that would have refuted the gist of the story.

Analysis

The story, written by Celani Sikhakhane, said that IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi was expected to soon clarify his political future. The reporter quoted an anonymous source from the NEC as saying: “A meeting will take place in the middle of next month … [where]we expect the Prince to clarify if he still has the energy to be the leader of the party” (translated).

Important information omitted

The story said that Buthelezi was going to clarify if he would continue to be the leader of the party during a meeting that had been scheduled for the middle of October.

The IFP says that the reporter contacted its national spokesperson as well as its national chairman, who both “refuted the false allegations” – yet, Sikhakhane neglected to include this information in his story. Van der Merwe concludes in her letter of complaint to this office: “The article has caused untold damage to the IFP, whose rank and file now erroneously believe that the President they elected in December 2012, to lead them to the all important (sic) 2014 elections, is about to abandon them. The instability caused by this type of malicious, negligent and unprofessional conduct is of such a serious nature that we appeal for you to urgently make a ruling in this regard.”

Isolezwe replies that it clarified the situation in a story published on September 13, and that it also published the IFP’s letter of complaint on September 30 – a response which the IFP was not satisfied with as its complaint was about the unethical conduct of the journalist.

I note the following:

·         The newspaper did not deny in its official response to the complaint that the comment garnered from the IFP members was too late for publication;

·         I therefore agree with the IFP that the journalist’s conduct was unethical and in breach of the Press Code; and

·         Isolezwe did publish a correction as well as the IFP’s letter.

I also take the following into consideration:

·         I probably would have asked the newspaper to publish an apology, if not for its corrections afterwards;

·         An apology on top of the above (which is the most I can do under these circumstances) would be a bit too thick; and

·         This office never takes up any matter with a reporter, but always with the publication – which has acted twice to set matters straight.

I therefore conclude that the publication has already taken satisfactory steps (plural) to rectify this issue, and that the journalist’s behaviour is a matter for the editor to handle.

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

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman