Muzzamil Toefy vs Daily Voice

Complainant: Muzzamil Toefy

Lodged by: Muzzamil Toefy

Article: EX-PAGAD BOSS IN HAJJ SCANDAL – Former vigilante operator unmasked. It also contains a reference to a story on page 4, headlined Ex-Pagad man stole our Hajj money, with a sub-headline that reads Old couple in Mecca rip-off lose R78 000. This story runs over to page five, that carries another story headlined SOCIAL FURY. Another sub-headline covers both pages 4 and 5, that reads First scammed pilgrims come forward to piemp operators. He also complains about a follow-up story that was published the next day on page 2 and that is headlined I’LL MECCA IT UP TO YOU – Ex-Pagad leader gives couple’s Hajj cash back.

Author of article: Vincent Cruywagen

Date: 14 December 2011

Respondent: Daily Voice

COMPLAINT
Mr Muzzamil Toefy complains about a story in the Daily Voice, published on October 18, 2011. The full front page is covered with the headline EX-PAGAD BOSS IN HAJJ SCANDAL – Former vigilante operator unmasked. It also contains a reference to a story on page 4, headlined Ex-Pagad man stole our Hajj money, with a sub-headline that reads Old couple in Mecca rip-off lose R78 000. This story runs over to page five, that carries another story headlined SOCIAL FURY. Another sub-headline covers both pages 4 and 5, that reads First scammed pilgrims come forward to piemp operators.
He also complains about a follow-up story that was published the next day on page 2 and that is headlined I’LL MECCA IT UP TO YOU – Ex-Pagad leader gives couple’s Hajj cash back.
Muzzamil Toefy complains regarding the first story that:
  • it falsely states that Mr Aslam Toefy stole Mr Abdullah Damon’s money (R78 000);
  • the journalist made no effort to get comment from Aslam Toefy or any member of Dhuyufullah (his travel agency); and
  • it uses out-dated Pagad pictures and links Aslam Toefy with a position that he resigned from more than 13 years ago, “solely to sensationalise the issue, and sell newspapers”.
Although the statement that Aslam and Dhuyufullah were under investigation regarding a Hajj scandal does not form part of the original complaint, the matter was raised in later correspondence. Muzzamil denies that this is true.
                                             
He also complains that the follow-up story misleadingly states that Damon was refunded as a result of the story that was published the previous day.
Note: Mr Aslam Toefy is the director of an organization called Dhuyufullah Hajj & Umrah Group, an organization that is since 1998 acting as a travel agent for Muslims to perform their pilgrimage to Mecca. He is also Pagad’s former national co-ordinator (“Pagad” is an acronym for People Against Gangsterism and Drugs, a Western Cape organization that was founded in 1996 and was soon said to become a vigilante group). His son is Muzzamil, who lodged this complaint. However, in later correspondence Muzzamil indicates that he acts on behalf of his father and Dhuyufullah. To avoid confusion, I shall from now on make use of their first names.
ANALYSIS
The first story, written by Vincent Cruywagen, says that Aslam is accused of stealing money from hopeful Muslim pilgrims. It states that Damon and his heartbroken wife, Jesmina, were the “first victims to name and shame any of the 11 Hajj operators accused in the Mecca scandal worth R33 million”. Damon reportedly said that he knew that he has applied too late to go to Mecca, but added that Aslam nevertheless promised him that he and his wife would go on Hajj. Cruywagen reports that Damon said he had contacted Aslam and demanded his money back, telling him that he had an alternate deal. “But Toefy sent him a string of SMSes urging him not to take a Hajj package from another operator.” Aslam reportedly delayed paying back the cash until the end of September – however, the couple could not cash Aslam’s cheque (for R78 000) as his signature did not correspond with his original one. Damon added: “He (Aslam) deliberately messed up his signature so that I missed my journey.” The story states that the newspaper has exposed the Hajj scandal two weeks before, and that a group called “Friends of the Hujjaj” (FotH) was formed as a result. It adds that the South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) is investigating 11 operators who are accused of selling visas and packages to hopeful pilgrims, whilst knowing that these visas exceeded the total that was available – implying that anyone travelling to Saudi Arabia on these visas would be deported back to South Africa. (According to Muzzamil, Sahuc is the organization that governs the entire pilgrimage process in this country.)
The story on page 5, written by Marvin Adams, gives background information regarding Pagad. It says that people who were “gatvol” for gang violence and drug dealing on the Cape Flats formed this organization in 1996. However, they were “classified as a vigilante group when they began to take the law into their own hands”. The story also mentions the killing of Hard Living gang leader Rashaad Staggie, who was shot, set alight and beaten to death. Adams also writes that Pagad became known as a “terrorist group” and was believed to be responsible for the murder of several gang leaders and for a series of bombings. Several Pagad members were reportedly arrested in connection with acts of urban terror, but none were ever convicted.
The follow-up story, also written by Cruywagen, says that Aslam has paid Damon the R78 000 back “after the Daily Voice highlighted the elderly couple’s plight yesterday”. A “relieved” Damon reportedly said: “I find it strange that Toefy decided to repay me immediately after the story appeared in the Daily Voice”. Cruywagen quotes Damon who (still) blamed Aslam for robbing him and his wife of the chance of going to Mecca. Muzzamil is quoted as saying that Damon was told on October 13 to collect the money and to bring the cheque along that the bank refused to pay out.
I shall now look at the merits of the complaint:
Aslam stealing Damon’s money
Muzzamil complains that the story falsely states that Aslam was involved in the Hajj scandal and that he has stolen Damon’s monies.
He explains that Sahuc receives a number of visas from Saudi Arabia and allocates them according to an accreditation system. He says that this year, the number of visas was reduced from 5 000 (last year) to 3 000 which “resulted in many unhappy prospective pilgrims not being able to perform their pilgrimage” (Damon being one of them). He also says that Damon has applied late for accreditation. After Damon was informed that he was not accredited, he requested a refund in mid-September. Aslam then wrote him a cheque, but “unfortunately” the signatures did not correspond and the bank declined it. Aslam had left for Mecca at this time and he therefore arranged for the funds to be available for collection. He says that an EFT payment was made on October 17 (which is one day prior to the publication of the first story) from Absa to a Nedbank account for the full amount. “However the amount did not reflect immediately because of the different banks”. This means, he argues, that at the time the story was written Damon “had effectively been paid”.
The Daily Voice responds that, at the time of publication of the first story, it did not know that Damon has been refunded. It says: “We only learned he had paid back the money the following day…” The newspaper emphasises that he was refunded a full three weeks after he first asked his money back.
Muzzamil replies that to publicly accuse somebody of a crime without justification amounts to defamation. This, he argues, is what both the story and the headline do – this accusation of theft was based on “known false information”.
Firstly, I take into account that Cruywagen did not know until after publication that Damon has been refunded. I also note that the newspaper does not dispute the fact that Aslam did not steal Damon’s money.
In this regard, a note written by Muzzamil and directed to Cruywagen becomes relevant. He says that, on or about 13 October (5 days prior to the publication of the first story), Damon went to a travel office to retrieve his money. The latter did not have the cheque with him that the bank has declined, but he was told that his money was safe (it was ready to be paid out) and that he merely needed to provide him with that cheque in order to be refunded.
I have no reason to disbelieve Muzzamil. I therefore conclude that not only did Aslam not steal the money, but also that he never intended to steal it (even though the payment was delayed for a while).
Which brings me to what the story, the headlines and a front page caption really say.
Firstly, I am going to look closely at the story and make a distinction between what Damon has reportedly said (which is relevant to the complaint), and what Cruywagen himself has added to the story.
Damon namely said that:
  • he blamed Aslam for not being able to go to Mecca;
  • he paid Aslam R78 000 for his trip to Saudi Arabia;
  • he knew that he had applied late for the trip;
  • Aslam had promised him that he would go to Mecca;
  • he demanded his money back as he had had an alternate deal;
  • Aslam’s signature on the cheque had not been in order and the money could not be paid out;
  • he planned to take legal action against Aslam (he mentioned “corrupt Hajj operators”); and
  • Aslam had deliberately messed up his signature so that he should miss his journey.
From this it is clear that the story does not report Damon as saying that Aslam stole his money, or accusing him of theft – he seems to be much more concerned that Aslam deliberately delayed payment to ensure that he misses the journey, for which he blames him.
(This is confirmed in the follow-up story, which says that Damon was glad to have received back his money, but that he still blamed Aslam for the pain he endured after his trip to Mecca flopped.)
Moreover, it makes sense that Damon apparently did not accuse Aslam of stealing his R78 000 – he was promised five days prior to publication that his money was safe and that he would get it back once he returns with the cheque.
This is what Cruywagen himself adds to the story:
  • Aslam is accused of ripping off hopeful Muslim pilgrims;
  • He mentions a R78 000 “Hajj rip-off at the hands of Toefy”; and
  • Damon was the first “victim” to name and shame the Hajj operators who were accused in the scandal.
It appears that the accusation of theft much rather comes from Cruywagen himself, and not from Damon. Any argument that these accusations can be indirectly attributed to Damon has to be discarded, as this is not corroborated anywhere in the story.
This phenomenon becomes even worse when studying the headlines and one of the captions. It namely states on the front page that:
  • Aslam was in a Hajj scandal – the “scandal” is being presented as a fact;
  • Damon was ripped off (the caption) – this is also stated as a fact, whilst he has received his money back; and
  • Aslam was “unmasked” – implying that he had done something wrong.
Half of page 4 says “Ex-Pagad man stole our Hajj money” – whilst the story does not attribute it to Damon at all. The other headline on that page states it as a fact that Damon has lost R78 000 in a Mecca rip-off – which, of course, is not true. The headline strip covering pages 4 and 5 states it as a fact that pilgrims (obviously Damon) was “scammed”.
Clearly, it was Cruywagen, and not Damon, who blamed Aslam for stealing R78 000.
I can only wonder what lies behind this irresponsible and reckless journalism. Perhaps a deeply held belief that, because Aslam was the head of (vigilante) Pagad, he is a bad person and therefore the journalist had the right to lower his ethical journalistic standards?
The preamble to the Press Code states that the press commits itself to the highest standards of excellence and explains that this, amongst other things, means “striving for the maximum truth” and “avoiding unnecessary harm”.
I have little doubt that this story represents quite the opposite.
No effort to obtain comment
Muzzamil complains that the newspaper made no effort to obtain comment from either Aslam or from any member of Dhuyufullah. He adds that the story does not mention any such effort. This, he argues, resulted in a one-sided story that defamed Aslam’s and Dhuyufullah’s name.
The newspaper says that Cruywagen did try to contact Aslam, but adds that this was unsuccessful.
He adds that the newspaper published Aslam’s complete cell phone number “which is now available to the general public”.
Firstly, I asked the newspaper for some proof that it did try to get comment from Aslam. Its editor then furnished me with a copy of a telephone record that indeed shows that it did try to get hold of Aslam twice the day before publication.
However, Muzzamil is correct in that the story does not reflect this, as it should have – Art. 1.5 of the Press Code is clear enough on this issue.
Secondly, I have asked the editor if he agrees that the publication of Aslam’s full cell phone number was an invasion of his privacy – and he did. However, he explains that this was “unfortunately due to a production mishap and not done deliberately”.
I accept the editor’s word, but hasten to add that a mistake remains a mistake.
Pictures to sensationalise, sell newspapers
Muzzamil complains that the use of out-dated Pagad pictures and the linking of Aslam to a position that he resigned from more than 13 years ago “was done solely to sensationalise the issue, and sell newspapers”.
The Daily Voice says that Aslam’s links with Pagad are in the public domain “and we did not publish anything factually incorrect in relation to this connection”.
In his response to the newspaper’s reply, Muzzamil says that the stories seek to defame Aslam and Dhuyufullah “in any manner possible”, including displaying masked men with shotguns and front page pictures of Aslam being manhandled by police over 13 years ago. This, he describes as “a malicious act” by the newspaper.
“Sensationalism” can be defined as “language or style producing or designed to produce startling or thrilling impressions or to excite and please vulgar taste” (one definition from the internet), which is usually done to achieve more profit. Some definitions include the word “bias” in it.
I do not dispute Muzzamil’s allegation that the pictures and the reference to Pagad amounts to sensationalism. However, there is nothing in the Press Code that prohibits newspapers from sensationalizing matters. Besides, if I find that sensationalist reportage is by default breaching the Code, I would be trying to change the very style of tabloid journalism.
Aslam, Dhuyufullah under investigation
The story states it as a fact that Sahuc was investigating Aslam and Dhuyufullah, without attributing it to a source.
Muzzamil denies that Sahuc is investigating Aslam or Dhuyufullah and that either has been linked to the selling of illegal visas, adding that the names of the 11 tour operators under investigation have not yet been released. He maintains that this reportage is defamatory and malicious.
The newspaper responds to a question of mine, saying that its source is 100% sure about this piece of information. Its editor says: “The contact says this information came directly from Sahuc general secretary Shaheen Essop and is furthermore willing to go on record and testify before the Ombudsman to this effect.”
Art. 12.2 of the Press Code states the following in connection with anonymous sources: “The press shall avoid the use of anonymous sources unless there is no other way to handle a story. Care should be taken to corroborate the information.”
I therefore asked Cruywagen if he tried to get the information from Essop himself, and if not, why not.
The reporter replied that he made two attempts to contact him, both of which were unsuccessful.
Then, I wanted to know if Cruywagen corroborated the information with anybody else, or if he relied on one source only. He replied that he did rely on one person only, but states that only this one person knew about it and repeats that his source is 100% reliable. The journalist says that he called his source again on 13 December, who “confirmed” the information. He adds that his source also successfully negotiated with other Hajj operators to pay back pilgrims who were left stranded as a result of the Hajj debacle.
I contacted Essop myself, who told me that he was not in a position to either confirm or deny that Sahuc was investigating Aslam; he added that he would reveal whom Sahuc was investigating in January next year.
That left me in no position to determine the truth of the statement in dispute. But ultimately, that is indeed not my task – I only need to determine how reasonable it was for the newspaper to have reported the way it did.
I accept that Cruywagen did try to corroborate the information with Essop, but also note that he did not report this in the story (as he should have).
However, his source was:
  • single;
  • anonymous; and
  • secondary (somebody who say somebody else has said…)
This is a dangerous journalistic exercise indeed that falls short of the Press Code. On top of that, he also presented this information as a fact, without even attributing it to his source.
Again, this is irresponsible and reckless – no matter how strongly you believe in your source’s reliability.
I therefore conclude that Cruywagen did not have enough grounds at the time of the writing of his story to present it as a fact that Sahuc was investigating Aslam and Duyufullah – even though it is possible that this may be revealed later.
The follow-up story: Damon refunded as a result of the first story
The intro to the story states it as a fact that Aslam has paid back R78 000 “after the Daily Voice highlighted the elderly couple’s plight yesterday”.
Muzzamil denies that Damon was refunded as a result of the publication of the first story, as payment was made before it was published. He argues that this reportage is therefore false and misleading. He adds that he sent the newspaper proof of payment on the same day that the first story was published.
The Daily Voice says that, when it learned that Aslam has paid back the money, it was happy to print this fact in its follow-up story. It adds that Aslam only refunded Damon “on foot of our queries” and explains that the latter was adamant that this was the case.
In his reply to the newspaper’s response, Muzzamil says that the follow-up story does not mention that Damon went to an organization to receive his money, that an AFT payment was made to him in his presence, that he signed the payment confirmation on October 17 and acknowledged receipt of the transfer of the money into his account, and that proof of this was sent to the newspaper.
I note that:
  • the newspaper does not deny that it has received a copy of this proof of payment prior to the publication of the second story; and
  • it is not the newspaper’s fault that Damon did not inform it accordingly (on the day before publication).
Whether Aslam has paid back Damon’s money “on foot of” the newspaper’s enquiries is not really relevant. The fact of the matter is that the second story does not say that at all – it does say, though, that Aslam paid back the money “after the Daily Voice highlighted the elderly couple’s plight yesterday”. I interpret these words to mean “published”.
This is untrue, as the money was paid back before the publication of the first story. And the newspaper knew this when it wrote the follow-up…
This is not good.
Also consider what the follow-up does not do. Remember that the second story namely comes after Aslam was falsely accused of stealing Damon’s money. I would have expected the newspaper to say “hey, this was a mistake, here is the correct story, and please accept our apologies for defaming Aslam”, or something to that effect. What I find, instead, is a story (again) written from the perspective of Damon and not from Aslam’s side, as it should have been.
Also: The second story does not really retract the accusations and statements of fact in the first story, namely that Aslam stole Damon’s money and that he was involved in a scandal – all it says, is that Aslam has now paid back the money (because of the first story). In other words, the story may be interpreted that Aslam has actually returned money that he intended to steal and that he would not have returned the R78 000 if not for the publication of the story.
This cannot be fair reportage.
I also note that there was no new attempt to obtain comment from Aslam, or at least a reference that such an attempt was made. The story does mention, though, what Aslam reportedly told a local radio station; I also keep in mind that Muzzamil was given a chance to clear his father’s name. Still, the subject of reportage should have been asked for comment, as the Press Code states clearly.
The headline also presents a problem. It reads: “I’ll Mecca it up to you”. The “Mecca” is indeed clever wordplay, but still, the heading suggests that the money has not been paid yet – whilst the story says the opposite. On the other hand, the sub-headline does state that Aslam has given back the money. I therefore give the newspaper the benefit of the doubt on this issue.
In conclusion, this story has also done quite the opposite from what the Preamble to the Code asks of journalists, as mentioned before.
FINDING
Aslam stealing Damon’s money
The newspaper has, recklessly and irresponsibly (in the story, a caption and the headlines) used Damon’s frustration for not being able to undertake a pilgrimage journey to Mecca to create the false impression that Aslam has stolen his money. This has turned on its head the part of the Preamble to the Press Code that states that the press commits itself to the highest standards of excellence which, amongst other things, means “striving for the maximum truth” and “avoiding unnecessary harm”. In this case, it is more a matter of striving for minimum truth and causing unnecessary harm to both Aslam and Dhuyufullah.
This is in breach of the following parts of the Press Code:
  • Art. 1.1: “The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”;
  • Art. 1.2: “News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the truth whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions or summarization”;
  • Art. 5: “The press shall exercise exceptional care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation…”; and
  • Art. 11.1: “Headlines and captions to pictures shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report…in question.”
No effort to obtain comment
The complaint that the newspaper did not try to contact Aslam is dismissed.
The story does not reflect the fact that the newspaper (tried to, but) was unable to contact Aslam. This is in breach of Art. 1.5 of the Press Code that states: “If the publication is unable to obtain such comment (from the subject of serious critical reportage), this shall be stated in the report.”
The publication of Aslam’s full cell phone number is an invasion of Aslam’s privacy. This is in breach of Art. 4.1 of the Code that says: “The press shall exercise exceptional care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals…”
Pictures to sensationalise, sell newspapers
This part of the complaint is dismissed.
Aslam, Dhuyufullah under investigation
The publication of information obtained from a single, anonymous and secondary source as a fact, without attribution, is in breach of the following parts of the Code:
  • Art. 1.3: “…Where a report is not based on facts or is founded on opinions, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly”; and
  • Art. 1.4: “…Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be mentioned in such report”.
The follow-up story: Damon refunded as a result of the first story
The statement that Aslam paid back the money “after the Daily Voice highlighted the elderly couple’s plight yesterday” is in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Code that states: “The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.” (This is not a decision for or against the allegation that Aslam refunded Damon as a result of the newspaper’s investigation – I simply do not know if that is true or not. This is merely about the word “highlighted”, which I interpret to mean “published”.)
The article omits Aslam’s perspective and it does not properly correct the inaccurate information contained in the first story, which led to a one-sided and unbalanced story. This is in breach of Art. 1.2.
The story should have at least mentioned that the newspaper was not able to obtain comment from Aslam as he was the subject of serious critical reportage. This is in breach of Art. 1.5 of the Code.
SANCTION
The Daily Voice is strongly reprimanded for:
  • using Damon’s frustration for not being able to undertake a pilgrimage journey to Mecca to create the false impression that Aslam has stolen his money;
  • invading Aslam’s privacy by publishing this full cell number;
  • publishing information obtained from a single, anonymous and secondary source as a fact, without attribution;
  • untruthfully, inaccurately and unfairly reporting that Aslam has paid back Damon’s money after the first story was published;
  • omitting Aslam’s perspective and not properly correcting the inaccurate information contained in the first story, which led to a one-sided and unbalanced follow-up story.
The newspaper is directed to apologise to Aslam for all of the above.
The newspaper is also reprimanded for not reporting in the first story that it was unsuccessful in obtaining Aslam’s comment, and for either not seeking his comment or neglecting to report that it was not successful in trying to do so in the second story.
Art. 1.6 of the Press Code states: “A publication should make amends for publishing information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by printing, promptly and with appropriate prominence, a retraction, correction or explanation.” (emphasis added)
In this regard the newspaper is directed to use the same space on its front page that it occupied with the Aslam story to publish a retraction and an apology on that page that address the five bullet points mentioned above (under “strongly reprimanded”).
The newspaper should furnish this office with the text prior to publication.
A kicker on the front page should also direct readers to the following text that should be published on page 4 or 5:
BEGINNING OF TEXT
The office of the Press Ombudsman has “strongly reprimanded” the Daily Voice regarding two stories that appeared on October 18 and 19 this year; it also directed us to retract some statements and to apologise to Mr Aslam Toefy for several breaches of the Press Code.
This came after his son, Mr Muzzamil Toefy, lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman.
The first story said that Aslam (his father) was accused of stealing money from hopeful Muslim pilgrims. A follow-up story reported that Aslam has paid back Damon’s money, but only as a result of the publication of the first story. Both stories were written by Vincent Cruywagen.
Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief strongly reprimanded the newspaper for:
  • using Damon’s frustration for not being able to undertake a pilgrimage journey to Mecca to create the false impression that Aslam has stolen his money – he called this “irresponsible and reckless journalism”;
  • invading Aslam’s privacy by publishing this full cell number;
  • publishing information obtained from a single, anonymous and secondary source as a fact, without attribution;
  • untruthfully, inaccurately and unfairly reporting that Aslam has paid back Damon’s money as a result of the publication of the first story; and
  • omitting Aslam’s perspective and not properly correcting the inaccurate information contained in the first story, which led to a one-sided and unbalanced follow-up story.
He said that our reportage was inaccurate, unfair, not balanced and that we have invaded Aslam’s privacy and that we did not exercise exceptional care regarding his dignity and reputation.
He also reprimanded us for not reporting in our first story that we were unsuccessful in obtaining Aslam’s comment and for either not seeking his comment or neglecting to report that we were not successful in trying to do so in the second story.
With reference to the Preamble to the Press Code, which says that the press should strive for maximum truth and avoid unnecessary harm, he remarked that he has “little doubt” that our reportage has done “quite the opposite”.
Retief dismissed the complaint that we made no effort to get comment from Aslam for the first story, and that we used out-dated Pagad pictures and linked him that organization to sensationalise the issue and to sell newspapers.
The Daily Voice apologises to Aslam and Dhuyufullah for our reportage on this matter and regrets the unnecessary harm that this has caused him and his organisation.
Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2011) for the full finding.
END OF TEXT
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