Leslie Sedibe vs Drum Magazine

13 January 2014

Dear both

Mr Sedibe’s complaint against Drum has now landed on my desk. As both parties have provided me with a proposed apology, which I note with appreciation, I am limiting myself to the apologies only.

The text of the apology

I am thankful that there are some important commonalities in the wording or at least the issues addressed in both drafts. For example, the words “tenders its apology”, “any embarrassment or inconvenience caused”, and “unconditionally withdraw(s)” appear in both drafts.

As it is to be expected, however, there also are some important differences and omissions.

As a general comment, I find the complainant’s version somewhat overstated – for example, the word “apologises” appears four times. This is unnecessary and indeed does not resonate with normal journalistic practice.

I am now firstly commenting on Sedibe’s draft, sentence by sentence:

1.      The words “unreservedly” and “and his family” do not appear in Drum’s version. However, the magazine did state that it “unconditionally” withdraws allegations of impropriety, which makes the use of the word “unreservedly” acceptable. Also, for an apology to be what it should be, it should (normally, of necessity) be unreserved. I also believe that Drum should not have any objection to apologise to Sedibe’s family too, as the article must have had a huge impact on them as well. I therefore support the gist of the first sentence.

2.      The second sentence is over-stating matters – an apology by its very nature implies that statements were misleading, unsubstantiated, etc, or else there would have been no apology at all. Also, this office does not entertain “defamation”, as this is a matter of law (we do, however, address matters of dignity and reputation – which I shall address in my text below).

3.      Drum’s version contains the bulk of this sentence, except for the words “defamatory statements”. The sentence can also be shortened without taking away the meaning thereof. The use of the word “unconditionally” is superfluous, given the use of the word “unreservedly” in the first sentence.

4.      This sentence adds the word “harm” to “embarrassment and inconvenience”, the latter of which are already included in Drum’s version. I support the inclusion of the word harm, but would like to add the word “unnecessary” (see the Preamble to the Press Code) – and I would like to use it higher up in the text. The words “to Adv Sedibe and his family” are superfluous, as indeed is the rest of this sentence (when seen in the context of the first sentence of my proposal below).

5.      This sentence is superfluous. However, the words “Sedibe’s good reputation and name” should be added somewhere.

6.      This last sentence is superfluous.

All of the above cover what Drum offered to publish, as well as provide for some concerns on Sedibe’s part (which I believe are reasonable and should be supported by Drum).

There is one aspect of Drum’s draft that is puzzling. The magazine says that it “unconditionally withdraws these allegations”, and yet it adds that Drum “stands by our story”. Unless the magazine explains this to me, it will continue to not make sense. How can one do both?

My ruling, therefore, is that Drum publishes the following text:

Drum hereby unreservedly apologises to Mr Leslie Sedibe and his family for any embarrassment, inconvenience or unnecessary harm caused to them, following the publication of an article headlined Shock Reveal! The Sedibe’s marriage ‘breakdown’ (31 October 2013). We withdraw the allegations that Sedibe had a relationship with a local celebrity and that he was jealous, controlling and abusive, and regret the harm that it has caused his good reputation, name and dignity.

The placing of the apology

I now turn to Sedibe’s requests that Drum:

·         says in its headline on the front page: Drum Magazine Issues Apology to Sedibe for Publishing Defamatory Article;

·         features its apology on its social media platform over a period of several days, because the article featured there for several days;

·         displays the apology on its landing page of its website; and

·         removes the article from its website and archives and replace it with the apology, together with a note that explains why it was removed (with a link to the apology).

I am guided here by Section 2.6 of the Press Code that states that a publication shall make amends “with appropriate prominence”.

These are my considerations:

·         I agree that the offending article received front page prominence (it covered more than half of the cover page) and that some mention of the apology should therefore be included on that page;

·         The Code makes mention of “appropriate” prominence, and does not state “the same” prominence;

·         Sedibe’s proposed headline is much too long. I am asking Drum to publish the words “Apology to Sedibe – see page xxx” on its front page. This should be published above the fold on page 1;

·         If indeed the story featured for a few days on Drum’s social media platform, it is only fair that the magazine does the same with its apology; and

·         If indeed the article was displayed on the landing page of Drum’s website, it should go there as well.

As far as the removing of the article is concerned: I leave it up to Drum to do one of two things – either remove the article, or append the apology to it.

The way forward

If one or both of the parties are not satisfied with my rulings, they should apply for leave to appeal. In that case, write to the Chair of Appeals, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully outlining the reasons for your application. He can be reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Kind regards