Joyce Molamu vs Sunday Times

Complainant: Joyce Molamu

Lodged by: Joyce Molamu

Article: Sports minister shown red card for ‘playing away’ 

Date: 16 December 2011

Respondent: Sunday Times

Complaint
Ms Joyce Molamu complains about a story in the Sunday Times, published on October 30, 2011and headlined Sports minister shown red card for ‘playing away’.
Molamu complains that:
the story falsely states that her baby is five months old; and
two statements/allegations were published without any proof or evidence.
Analysis
The story is about a one-night affair between Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula and Molamu, which allegedly has left her pregnant.
I shall now look at the merits of the complaint:
Five month-old child
Molamu complains that the reference to her child as being five months old is inaccurate. She says her son was born on early in April 2011.
This means that, at the time of publication, the child was 6 months old.
Sunday Times says that Molamu herself told Zenoyise Madikwa (a journalist at Sowetan) her child was 5 months old. It adds that Mbalula’s spokesperson also told its sister newspaper (Sunday World) the same. The newspaper adds: “While we are willing to accept the age of her child as stated in the complaint, we submit that it was reasonable for us to state in the stories that the child was five months old as we had received that information from two people, including Ms Molamu.”
However, Molamu denies that any journalist has ever asked her about her child’s age.
These are my observations and considerations:
I accept Molamu’s testimony regarding the age of her child;
If it is true that Molamu told Madikwa that her child was 5 months old, I find it strange that she made a mistake regarding her own baby’s age;
I note that the newspaper did not independently establish this information, but that it rather relied on two sister newspapers. Normally this is unacceptable, but I take into account that these newspapers operate as a sort of a news agency, and also that the information in its story is attributed to the Sunday World (who made use of Mbalula’s spokesperson – someone who can reasonably be seen as a credible and reliable source); and
The more central an issue is to a story, the more necessary it becomes to verify such information. In this case, the 6-month-old child who was said to be 5 months old is not material to the story.
Based on the last two bullets, I do not see the need for verification of this information. However, the Press Code states that incorrect information should be corrected.
Statements without proof, evidence
Molamu says that the following statements/allegations were published without any proof or evidence:
 “I’m told she broke windows in his (Presidential communications adviser Zizi Kodwa’s) house in Midrand when he refused to give her money” (Mbalula);
After Kodwa confirmed that he had also dated Molamu, he reportedly added: “What she is doing to Fikile is nothing. She did worse things to me. I don’t even want to talk about them”.
Molamu asks what proof the newspaper has to back up the reportage mentioned above. She also wants to know if the newspaper has a case number regarding the damage of property, or if it has any proof that she has asked Kodwa for money.
Sunday Times says that those quotes were properly attributed. The newspaper argues that it did its duty to ask Molamu for comment – which she refused. It adds: “To demand a case number or receipts for repairs is disingenuous when she refused to set the record straight when she had the opportunity to do so.”
The newspaper is correct – both statements in dispute are properly attributed. The sources had the right to say what they did (if it was true or not), and the publication was justified in reporting that.
Also:
It is indeed a pity that Molamu did not make use of the opportunity to put forward her side of the story; and
I do not believe that these statements are defamatory of her because they probably do not significantly lower her public image.
Finding
The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.
However, the correct age of Molamu’s child’s age has to be published.
Sanction
Sunday Times is directed to publish that the correct age of Molamu’s child was 6 months at the time of publication, and not 5 months as the newspaper was led to believe.
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