Complainant: Premier Ebrahim Rasool
Article: High-flyer hits the jackpot
Date: 16 May 2008
Respondent: Daily Voice
Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool’s complaint against the Daily Voice relates to a double-page spread on Pages 4 and 5 and an editorial on Page 6 of the January 11 2008 edition.
He argued that the wording in the two articles gave the impression – “by way of innuendo, distortion or misrepresentation” – to the reasonable reader that he had recklessly given over one million rand of taxpayers’ money to an alleged criminal high flyer, Richard “Pot” Stemmet, who was facing drug-related and other criminal charges.
Mr Rasool argued that the opening sentence of the spread – “An alleged high-flyer and minstrel kingpin has received more than R1-million from government even though he is facing drug charges” – and the editor’s comment that proposed that he had to go and asserted he gave a huge bundle of cash to a man his own administration called a high-flyer were “a serious allegation against my integrity”.
This office has chosen to decide this matter on the papers in terms of Section 2.4 of the Complaints Procedures –“If the complaint is not settled within 14 days of its notification to the respondent, the Ombudsman may, if it is reasonable not to hear the parties, decide the matter on the papers.”
The Kaapse Karnavaal Assosiasie (KKA) received financial assistance of R1,6-million from the Western Cape provincial government for its annual minstrel carnival. Richard “Pot” Stemmet is one of the three leaders of the KKA.
Other beneficiaries included, among others, Christmas choirs, the Cape Minstrel Association, the Cape Malay Choir Board, and Wellington and District Minstrels.
The Premier writes: “The expenditure covered transport costs for the troupes, paid directly to the Golden Arrow Bus Company, as well as contributions to their expenses related to logistics and administration.”
In his response, Acting Editor of the Daily Voice Elliot Sylvester argued that the article and the editor’s comment be read as a whole because he did not believe that a piecemeal extraction of certain sentences contained in a lengthy story could truly be an attack on a person’s credibility.
Sylvester argued that all the facts that Rasool asserted in his complaint are contained in the article, for example, the story indicated that Stemmet is one of three leaders of the KKA; that it was the KKA that received the R1,5-million in taxpayers’ money from the premier, etc.
Sylvester says that “on the complainant’s own version of facts, the report is truthful, accurate and fair”.
He says the Daily Voice is a tabloid “and as such much of what appears in the newspaper is written in a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ manner”.
“The entire report should be read in this context, as this is the manner in which the general Daily Voice reading demographic would have read the report.”
Reading the article:
• The strap above the headline appears to be true: Cops are still investigating coon boss for drugs.
• The headline – ‘High-flyer’ hits the jackpot – is not true. We know that it was not Stemmet who hit the jackpot – rather, it was the KKA.
• The subhead – Government gives klopse chief R1m – is not true.
• The opening sentence – An alleged high-flyer has received more than R1 million from government even though he is facing drug charges – is not true.
• The next six paragraphs are about the charges against Stemmet.
• The eighth paragraph – But this didn’t stop Premier Ebrahim Rasool and Mayor Helen Zille from jolling with Stemmet at the annual Tweede Nuwe Jaar festivities earlier this month – is fair interpretation.
• The next paragraph – Both the mayor and premier have launched anti-drug campaigns, yet they seem to have no problems with supporting a man cops have labelled a high-flyer in the criminal underworld – is not true; it centres assistance to the KKA on one person and thus distorts the truth.
• Paragraph 13 – Despite all the criminal activities police are investigating, Stemmet’s Kaapse Karnavaal Assosiasie received R1,5 million from the premier – tells the true story but colours the KKA by making it Stemmet’s.
• The rest of the story still carries a negative innuendo – But the R1,5 million from the province was not split that way…I was just doing what I was told – suggesting that there was something untoward about the distribution of the money without making any direct accusation.
This analysis is the result of reading the story as a whole and is not “a piecemeal extraction of certain sentences”.
It is possible the newspaper was hinting that Rasool should have asked the KKA to exclude Stemmet from the carnival until he had cleared his name in the courts.
Excluding him in that fashion would have been going against one of the foundations of our justice system – that one is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
The newspaper did not make that point and instead it imputed wrongdoing on the part of the premier.
This accusatory tone is carried into editorial comment on Page 6: “He (Rasool) spends your money on drug programmes. Then he gave a huge bundle of cash to a man his own administration calls a high-flyer.”
The comment is an inference from untrue information. The money was given to the KKA – part of the Western Cape community.
Sylvester has argued that from its studies the Daily Voice was aware that its readers wanted stories to entertain and inform them and “that is why the report published on 11 January 2008 is in the format that it is”.
He argues: “In the Western Cape, the Daily Voice fulfils a further role that is directed at the working class from the traditional ‘coloured’ constituency. In this regard, it provides a comment that is colloquially addressed to that constituency. The language should also be read in a colloquial context.”
All newspaper readers want to be entertained and informed but the responsibility to provide truthful, accurate and fair news still rests on editors, of both the broadsheets and the tabloids.
The two types of newspapers might have different choices in news and they might have different styles of presenting their news – the one sober and the other sensationalist – but the code requires minimum standards that the Daily Voice in this instance did not meet.
The Daily Voice is in breach of:
1.1 of the South African Press Code in that it was not fair in its treatment of Mr Rasool;
1.2.1 in that it conflated the KKA and Stemmet in its reportage and thus distorted and misrepresented the facts; and
3.2 and 3.4 in that in its editorial comment it misrepresented and distorted relevant facts.
The Daily Voice is ordered to carry a front page apology and an abbridged version of this ruling in its inside pages – both to be provided by the Press Ombudsman’s office.
In terms of the Complaints Procedures, within seven days of receipt of this decision, any one of the parties may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairman of the Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman. The grounds of appeal shall be fully set out.