SABC vs Shine Provincial News

Complainant: SABC

Lodged by: Refilwe Lefakane

Article: SABC rocked by SEX scandal (on the front page), and Sex for jobs scandal hits SABC (page 2)

Author of article: Matodzi Makananisa

Date: 5 July 2013

Respondent: Shine Provincial News

Complaint

The SABC complains about a story in Shine Provincial News on 22-28 March 2013, headlined SABC rocked by SEX scandal (on the front page), and Sex for jobs scandal hits SABC (page 2).

The broadcaster complains that:

·         it was not asked for comment;

·         statements to the effect that two PhalaPhala FM radio station managers requested sexual favours from its sports presenter Precious “Makhadzi” Maiwashe were in breach of various clauses of the Press Code (see below); and

·         the headlines were false.

Analysis

The story, written by Matodzi Makananisa, said that Maiwashe vented her frustrations on Facebook, alleging that the radio station’s management tried to “get into her pants” (but failed to do so). She said that management demanded sex from her in exchange for keeping her job. The article mentioned line manager Hudson Musandiwa and station manager Freddy Sadiki in this regard.

Not asked for comment

The story said that numerous attempts were made to solicit comments from the SABC, but they all “drew a blank”.

The SABC denies that the newspaper attempted to contact it for comment, or any of the relevant employees for that matter.

The newspaper says that Makananisa did try to contact Sadiki. “When Sadiki could not take or return his calls, the journalist sent an sms (the proof of which we have and are happy to submit if requested) but he never got any form of response from the station manager.”

I note that the newspaper, in its response to the complaint, has scaled down its original statements in the story that mentioned “various SABC people” to one SABC person only, namely Sadiki.

But there is more.

I needed some proof of the attempts the newspaper says it made to contact the SABC. It then provided me with a telephone record indicating that the newspaper did phone Sadiki’s number (083 443 1544) at 8:39 on March 21 (which was a Thursday and not a Wednesday, as stated in the story). This call cost R1.80, which implies that there was some form of communication (whether directly, or by way of a message).

However, the record also shows that the newspaper made only one call to Sadiki – which is a far cry from “numerous attempts”, as stated in the story.

Regrettably, the newspaper was not able to provide me with this SMS. Makananisa explains that, as he kept on sending out text messages, his phone automatically pushed out old ones. “This is what happened to the sms I sent to him.”

Based on the fact that the journalist tried to call Sadiki, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and accept that he sent this SMS in addition to his first attempt to phone him.

This leaves me with the following (factual) situation: The newspaper tried to contact one person on two occasions – but there were no “numerous attempts” to contact “various SABC people”. Clearly, this was an exaggeration.

Also, I note that the newspaper tried to contact Sadiki, but made no attempt to communicate with either Musandiwa or the SABC. I take it that the newspaper would have provided me with the necessary proof of such attempts if they existed (I have asked for such proof on several occasions).

The publication says that it did contact Mr Kaizer Kganyago, the SABC’s national spokesman, a week after publication. However, the SABC says that this story, published in the edition of 5 – 11 April and headlined Phalaphala FM: SABC speaks, did not deal with defamation and could therefore (only) be remedied by a public apology.

The first half of this story consisted of a summary of the story that was published earlier. The story then quoted Kganyago, who denied the allegation and stated they it was merely a rumour.

The spokesman also reportedly:

·         called the allegations “serious”;

·         encouraged Maiwashe to lodge a formal complaint; and

·         distanced the broadcaster from any such or similar wrongdoing.

To my mind, this reportage did much to restore the harm that the disputed story may have caused the people concerned and the institution as such – much, but not all of it.

Sexual favours

The story said: “She (Maiwashe) says her line manager Hudson Musandiwa is ruthless and so is the station manager Freddy Sadiki: ‘these are people who must be fired from the management of the station then things will improve. Not all of us agree to sex in exchange for jobs. Musandiwa and Sadiki know the truth’.”

The SABC complains that the reported allegation that radio station managers requested sexual favours from Maiwashe were in breach of:

·         Section 2.1 of the Press Code, which stipulates that news should be reported accurately and fairly (thereby denying that the allegations were true);

·         Section 2.4, that asks for verification; and

·         Sections 4.1 and 4.2 that addresses the rights to privacy, dignity and reputation (it argues that the story gave the impression that it encouraged such conduct and that it did not protect its employees against any form of harassment).

The newspaper does not respond to this part of the complaint.

Here are my first, and general, considerations:

·         Maiwashe recorded her allegations on Facebook, which falls outside the mandate of this office;

·         The publication of these allegations in a newspaper that subscribes to the Press Code is an entirely different matter; and

·         The allegations are of a serious nature, as they have the potential to impugn Musandiwa’s and Sadiki’s dignity and reputation, as well as that of the SACB as an institution.

I now need to comment on the specific question whether the newspaper was justified and within the boundaries of the Press Code to report Maiwashe’s comments that she had posted on Facebook.

Firstly, it must be clear that the fact that something was said or published somewhere, does not by default justify a newspaper to publish that very same allegation. In law, it is recognized that the repetition of defamation is also defamation (translated to the Press Code: the repetition of the impairment of somebody’s dignity and reputation is also an impairment of his or her dignity and reputation).

I also take into account that the allegation was of a serious nature, as well as the fact that the newspaper did not attempt to get comment from either Musandiwa or the SABC. It is indeed a dangerous journalistic practice to base one’s information on a single source, especially if that information is potentially harmful to the subject of reportage. This can easily lead to unfair (if not inaccurate) reporting.

Because of the serious nature of Maiwashe’s allegation, I do not believe that the newspaper was justified in publishing her claim without any form of verification, substantiating evidence or support, even if it did record comment from the affected parties. The story also omitted to state that the reporter could not verify Maiwashe’s allegation.

This reportage boiled down to unfair reporting that was potentially needlessly harmful, as it may have unfairly impugned the affected people’ and institution’s dignity and reputation.

I am not saying that the allegation was true or not – that is not for me to decide.

False headline

The headline of the front page said SABC rocked by SEX scandal. The story on page 2 was headlined Sex for jobs scandal hits SABC.

While the story (unfairly so) presented the allegations as allegations, the headlines even went further – it presented the allegations as fact (as if the “scandal” was not an allegation). Surely, it cannot be called a “scandal” based on the testimony of one person only.

This is simply inexcusable.

Finding

Not asked for comment

The newspaper did try to solicit comment from one SABC person on two occasions. However, that did not justify the journalist to report that it had made “numerous attempts” to “various SABC people”. This is in breach of Section 2.2 of the Press Code that says: “News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by…exaggeration…”

There is no evidence that the newspaper tried to obtain comment from Musandiwa or the SABC itself. This is in breach of Section 2.5 of the Code that says: “A publication shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…”

The fact that the newspaper contacted the SABC’s national spokesman a week after publication, and published his comment, is praiseworthy – but it did not deter from the fact that it should have done so in the first place.

Sexual favours

The publication of the allegation that two members of the radio station requested sexual favours from Maiwashe in exchange for her keeping her job was in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

·         2.1: “The press shall take care to report news…fairly”;

·         2.4: “Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be stated in such report”; and

·         4.2 that state that the press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation.

False headline

The headlines stated somebody’s (unsubstantiated) opinion as fact, breaching Section 10.1 of the Code that states: “Headlines…shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report … in question.”

This breach of the Code was aggravated by the fact that the allegation (stated as someone’s opinion, and not presented as fact) in the story was already in breach of the Code.

Sanction

Shine Provincial News is directed to apologise to Musandiwa and Sadiki for:

·         unfairly and without any form of verification reporting the allegation that they had offered Maiwashe sexual favours in exchange for her keeping her job;

·         not stating that it could not verify this allegation;

·         not exercising care and consideration matters involving dignity and reputation;

·         exaggerating that it had contacted that it had made “numerous attempts” to “various SABC people”; and

·         stating in its headlines Maiwashe’s opinion as fact.

The newspaper is also asked to apologise to Musandiwa and to the SABC for not trying to obtain their comment.

The newspaper is directed to publish:

·         a kicker on its front page, referring to an “apology” or using the word “apologises”; and

·         the following text on page 2:

Shine Provincial News apologises to PhalaPhala FM radio line manager Hudson Musandiwa and station manager Freddy Sadiki for unfairly and without proper verification reporting the allegation that the two managers had offered sports presenter Precious “Makhadzi” Maiwashe sexual favours in exchange for her keeping her job. We also apologise to Musandiwa and to the SABC for not trying to obtain their comment regarding this allegation.

The SABC lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman about a story published on 22-28 March 2013, headlined SABC rocked by SEX scandal (on the front page), and Sex for jobs scandal hits SABC (page 2).

The story, written by Matodzi Makananisa, said that Maiwashe vented her frustrations on Facebook, alleging that the radio station’s management tried to “get into her pants” (but failed to do so). She said that management demanded sex from her in exchange for keeping her job. The article mentioned Musandiwa and Sadiki in this regard.

Ombudsman Johan Retief said: “I…take into account that the allegation was of a serious nature, as well as the fact that the newspaper did not attempt to get comment from either Musandiwa or the SABC. It is indeed a dangerous journalistic practice to base one’s information on a single source, especially if that information is potentially harmful to the subject of reportage. This can easily lead to unfair (if not inaccurate) reporting.

“Because of the serious nature of Maiwashe’s allegation, I do not believe that the newspaper was justified in publishing her claim without any form of verification, substantiating evidence or support, even if it did record comment from the affected parties. The story also omitted to state that the reporter could not verify the allegation.

“This reportage boiled down to unfair reporting that was potentially needlessly harmful, as it may have unfairly impugned the affected people’ and institution’s dignity and reputation.”

He added that he was not saying that the allegation was true or not – “that is not for me to decide”.

We also apologise for not exercising proper care and consideration in matters involving their dignity and their reputation; for not trying to obtain comment from Musandiwa and the SABC; for exaggerating by reporting that we have made “numerous attempts” to contact “various SABC people”, for not saying that we were unable to verify the allegation; and for our headlines that stated Maiwashe’s unsubstantiated opinion as fact.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

End of text

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