Mogale City Local Municipality vs The Star

Complainant: Mogale City Local Municipality

Lodged by: David Mogaswa

Article: Salary glitch may lead to strike

Author of article: Baldwin Ndaba

Date: 23 September 2014

Respondent: The Star

Complaint

The Municipality is complaining about a story published in The Star on 21 July 2014, headlined Salary glitch may lead to strike.

Mogaswa says the story was defamatory of the municipality in that it falsely portrayed the institution as poorly run/administered, financially unstable, and uncaring towards its members of staff.

He specifically denies that the municipality failed to pay members of staff on time, and adds that the newspaper did not obtain comment prior to publication.

The text

The story, written by Baldwin Ndaba, said that municipal workers “may go on strike following the failure of the municipality to pay their salaries on time last month”. This reportedly resulted from an IT glitch. However, municipal spokesman Nkosana Zali blamed the breakdown on sabotage.

The Star’s response

The Star says that defamation is not covered by the Press Code and therefore it declines to respond to this allegation.

Ritchie has provided this office with two documents:

  • A municipal minute circular to staff regarding the IT system problem involving delayed payments (dated 2 July 2014); and
  • A letter by the SA Municipal Workers Union, dated 11 July 2014, which threatened the local municipality with strike action due to the system failure.

The acting editor adds that the newspaper has received an anonymous letter requesting investigations into the matter, and that Ndaba then retrieved the documents mentioned above. The reporter also conducted several interviews in this regard. Ritchie concludes: “Having regard to the above sources used in compiling the article it is apparent that corroboration was sought and confirmed prior to publication.”

Ritchie also denies that the newspaper did not ask the municipality for comment, as:

  • Ndaba sent an email to Zali on 16 July 2014, asking various questions related to the matter – and the latter acknowledged receipt;
  • additional questions were sent to Zali on July 18;
  • Zali responded on the same day, saying that the system had been “sabotaged” (as recorded in the story); and
  • Zali was the correct person to contact, as Ndaba had liaised with him on previous occasions.

My considerations

The Star’s argument that defamation is not covered by the Press Code, and that it therefore does not need to respond to this allegation, is correct. This office has on numerous occasions confirmed this stance.

However, it should be kept in mind that Sect. 4.7 of the Press Code addresses dignity and reputation (which are provisionally safeguarded). After having dismissed the complaint about defamation, I have therefore on occasion, when appropriate, evaluated the complaint with this section in mind.

Secondly, I have perused the documents that Ritchie provided to this office and am entirely satisfied that the contents justified the reportage.

The email by Ndaba to Zali and his response also prove that the newspaper did timeously ask the municipality to respond.

In fact, I am quite surprised that the municipality firstly complained about this matter, and then asked me to adjudicate this matter, knowing full well that the documents mentioned above are at my disposal.

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