Ntsiki Matubatuba vs Daily Dispatch

Complainant: Ntsiki Matubatuba

Article: Councillor uses ratepayers’ funds for home music studio – then has DA and press arrested for trespass

Date: 2 Dec 2013

Respondent: Daily Dispatch

Complaint

Matubatuba is complaining about a story published in the Daily Dispatch on 2 December 2013, headlined: Councillor uses ratepayers’ funds for home music studio – then has DA and press arrested for trespass

She complains that the story incorrectly:

  • said that she was a senior manager; and
  • alleged that she had illegitimately used municipal funds to build a recording studio at her home.

She adds that the journalist contacted neither her, nor the mayor, nor the Jaziel brothers (reportedly the intended recipients of the relevant municipal funds) for comment, and that the headline was misleading.

I note that part of her complaint is about the journalist and a member of the DA who allegedly trespassed when they entered her house. As charges were laid against them regarding this matter and a court case is likely to result, I am not entertaining this part of the complaint (see Section 1.6 of the Complaints Procedures of the Press Council).

Analysis

The story, written by Abongile Mcaqelwa, was about accusations that Matubatuba, a “senior manager in Matatiele municipality”, had used municipal funds to build a recording studio in her house. “The recording studio in question was allegedly built with funds meant for a talent search project initiated by the Jaziel Brothers.” She and her husband reportedly laid charges against the journalist and a member of the DA for trespassing after these two people had visited her home and took pictures of the studio.

Senior manager

The story said Matubatuba was “a senior manager in Matatiele municipality”.

She says this is incorrect – she is a municipal official in charge of a certain project.

The editor says that Matubatuba is the municipality’s special programme unit manager, in the mayor’s office, and argues that “that makes her a senior manager”.

These arguments are mere semantics and a matter of interpretation. I do not think that calling her a senior manager would have caused her unnecessary harm of any kind.

Illegitimate use of municipal funds

The story reported allegations that Matubatuba had used municipal funds to build the studio in her home.

She says that the municipality authorized the expenses.

Siqoko points out that the story did not state as fact that Matubatuba had misused municipal funds to build the studio – the journalist consistently ensured that this remained an allegation from political parties represented in the council.

I believe that Matubatuba does not deny that the studio was built in her house; only that she had used or misused municipal funds in this regard.

In general, a newspaper is not at liberty to publish just any allegation – it should ensure that there are reasonable grounds for such statements. Just think for one moment how much unnecessary harm the press can cause if it prints allegations that have no basis whatsoever.

In this instance, though, public funds were at stake, and an allegation such as this one (and coming from a prominent political party) should be taken seriously – especially if the municipal manager denies any knowledge of the matter. That is not to say that the allegation is in fact true, of course – all it says is that surely, the press acts in the public interest if it publishes such a statement as an allegation.

I have asked her twice for proof that the funds she used had been authorised, but nothing was forthcoming.

Not asked for comment

Matubatuba complains that the journalist did not contact her, or the mayor, and/or the Jaziel brothers for comment.

The editor replies that the journalist did speak to the municipal manager, and points out that his response was recorded in the story.

Given that the editor did ask the municipality’s official spokespeople for comment, I do not believe that it was necessary to contact the mayor as well. Also, the publication was not at fault for not speaking to the Jaziel brothers – they were not subjected to critical reporting.

However, the Press Code says that a publication shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage. Because the story reported that she could not be reached for comment, I have therefore asked the editor (twice) for proof of this alleged attempt. He also did not respond. I therefore have no reason to believe that the newspaper in fact tried to get hold of Matubatuba.

Misleading headline

Matubatuba complains that the headline was misleading.

The editor agrees.

So do I – it stated an allegation as fact and in this process may have caused her some serious, unnecessary harm.

Finding

Senior manager

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Illegitimate use of municipal funds

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Not asked for comment

The newspaper is in breach of Section 2.5 of the Press Code which states: “A publication shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…”

Misleading headline

The headline stated an allegation as fact. This was in breach of Section 10.1 of the Press Code, which states: “Headlines…shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report…in question.”

Sanction

Daily Dispatch is:

  • directed to apologise to Matubatuba for stating as fact in the headline the allegation that she used ratepayers’ funds for building a music studio at her home;
  • reprimanded for not asking Matubatuba for her side of the story; and
  • directed to publish her opinion on this matter (if she still wants to comment), as well as this sanction.

The newspaper should furnish our office with the text prior to publication. Please add to the text: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.”

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 for the appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman