Mzukisi Mgudlwa vs Daily Dispatch

Complainant: Mzukisi Mgudlwa

Lodged by: Mzukisi Mgudlwa

Article:  Aids ‘cure’ drug sold to ill man – People warmed about claims (25 May 2013); and ‘Aids cure’ is a stain remover – Test: court official’s medicine is bogus (28 May)

Date: 3 September 2013

Respondent: Daily Dispatch

Complaint 

Mr Mgudlwa complains about two stories in the Daily Dispatch, headlined:

  • Aids ‘cure’ drug sold to ill man – People warmed about claims (25 May 2013); and
  • ‘Aids cure’ is a stain remover – Test: court official’s medicine is bogus (28 May).

Mgudlwa complains that the:

  • journalist mislead him by posing as an employee of a well-known shop;
  • story erroneously said that he had claimed that his medication could cure Aids; and
  • newspaper did not want to publish his side of the story.

Analysis

The first story said that an employee at the East London Magistrate’s Court had been selling a “cure” for HIV/Aids. This story did not mention Mgudlwa’s name. It also stated that a Saturday Dispatch undercover reporter had bought a 30ml bottle of the substance from this court official for R350, and that this man told the journalist that while he used the substance for pneumonia it can also “completely” cure HIV. The newspaper was reportedly tipped-off by someone whose relative had bought the substance as a cure for his HIV.

The second story revealed Mgudlwa’s name, as well as the fact that the “cure” was hydrogen peroxide – a substance that can be used to get rid of fabric stains, bleach hair and disinfect wounds, but which can also be detrimental to people’s health if used in excessive quantities.

Misleading identification

Mgudlwa complains that an adult woman approached him in his office at the East London court and introduced her as Unathi from a local shop. He says that he discovered the next day that “Unathi” was in fact a Daily Dispatch reporter.

The newspaper says that it knew of the requirement set out in Section 1.2 of the Press Code, namely that journalists should identify themselves as such unless a public interest dictates otherwise. The publication argues that this was such a case (read: public interest). “Had we identified ourselves it’s highly unlikely that court official selling the Aids ‘Cure’ would have admitted to his actions. The point of the exercise was to establish if the information given to us by a member of the public was in fact correct.”

This is what Wikipedia says about the substance: “Claims that diluted hydrogen peroxide may be taken intravenously or even orally for treating various sicknesses, including cancer, have been shown to be fraudulent, dangerous, and illegal, using ‘misbranding’ and language explicitly prohibited by the Code of Federal Regulations, and have caused several cases of death.”

Clearly, the above is referring to the excessive use of the substance – the newspaper says that local pharmacies sold the substance for around R10 a bottle.

This is a classic case of when a publication is indeed allowed to go undercover in the interest of the public.

This is why:

  • There is no known cure for Aids;
  • The substance itself may be potentially dangerous to people and in extreme cases can even cause death;
  • It is illegal for non-medical people to sell a substance that may heal Aids – for that, they need special permission from the proper medical council; and
  • There is a possibility that a bottle of the substance that can be bought at a pharmacy for R10 may have been sold for R350.

Medication for curing aids

The story said that Mgudlwa told “Unathi” that this medication “completely heals HIV”.

Mgudlwa complains that this is not true. He says that “Unathi” asked him for medication against HIV, upon which he told her that he did not sell any medication – his own medication (he calls it Oxygen Therapy) was for treating pneumonia.

He adds that he told her if she wanted:

  • the same medicine, she should buy it at the same place that he obtained his from; and
  • more information on this medicine, she could search the internet for it.

The Daily Dispatch maintains that its story was correct, and adds that Mgudlwa even asked its reporter if she would become an agent selling the substance in rural areas.

I am in no position to take sides on what exactly what was said between Mgudlwa and the reporter. However, based on the rest of the information at my disposal I believe that it is reasonable for me to either take the newspaper’s word or at the very least give it the benefit of the doubt.

Note that I am not thereby saying that Mgudlwa was guilty – that is for a court to decide. I am merely saying that the newspaper was justified in reporting the information that was at its disposal as it was in the overriding public interest.

Refusing right of reply

Mgudlwa says that he prepared a text for publication in response to the stories, but complains that the newspaper refused to publish it, calling this unfair treatment by the Daily Dispatch.

The newspaper says that its reporter asked Mgudlwa for comment a day before the publication of the second story – yet he refused to do so (at least substantially). The publication says it has a tape recording of this conversation if I want to listen to it.

That will not be necessary. Mgudlwa did not complain that the second story did not contain his comments, but only that the newspaper refused to publish his text that he prepared after the second story appeared.

The Daily Dispatch was under no obligation to publish this text since he had refused to comment in the first place.

General comment

I have documentation at my disposal between the Court Manager and Mgudlwa. This information is not relevant to my finding, which is why I am ignoring it.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

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