Shiyaam Marlie vs Daily Voice

Compliant: Shiyaam Marlie

Lodged by: Shiyaam Marlie

Article: Skin the fat cats

Author of article: Vincent Cruywagen

Date: 16 May 2011

Respondent: Daily Voice

Complaint
Ms Shiyaam Marlie complains about a story in the Daily Voice, published on March 8, 2011, and headlined Skin the fat cats.
Marlie complains that:
  • it is defamatory to state that she was “high on their investigators’ list”:
  • it is untrue that she was subpoenaed; and
  • she did not use her religion as a cheap agent for Ms Jasmin Ebrahim.
Analysis
The story, written by Vincent Cruywagen, says that people who benefitted from an alleged ponzi scheme “stand to lose their larney properties and flashy cars”. It adds that investigators believe that the alleged mastermind behind the scheme, together with some agents, lured Muslims into investing by using the Qur’an. It implicates Marlie as one of the agents.
I shall now consider the merits of the complaint:
Defamation
The story says that Marlie (together with two others) was high on the investigators’ list to have their flashy cars and larney properties attached.
Marlie says that this statement defames her and adds that she is a victim (and not a beneficiary) of the ponzi scheme.
However, it is reasonable to believe that any agent of this scheme (that reportedly has collapsed) would probably have been “high on the investigators’ list”.
Note that this is not to say that Marlie was guilty – it only says that investigators would have looked critically at her involvement in the scheme.
Subpoenaed
Marlie says that she has “not yet” been subpoenaed (to testify), yet Cruywagen ties her to the stigma that was created in the newspaper on Sharifa Natha (another agent). Marlie says that she wants to know on what facts the reporter based his story.
However, the story does not say that she has been subpoenaed. The only reference in the story to Marlie reads as follows: “And Ebrahim, along with two agents so far identified as Sharifa Natha and Shiyaam Marlie, are high on the investigators’ list to have their flashy cars and larney properties attached.”
I am not convinced that the story even implies that Marlie was subpoenaed. So I asked her to point out to me where the story says that she was subpoenaed. She never responded to my question.
Using her religion
The story says investigators believe that the alleged mastermind behind the scheme, together with agents, used the Qur’an to lure unsuspecting people into investing. The story later identifies Marlie as one of these agents.
Marlie denies that she used her religion “to act as a cheap agent or fat cat for Jasmin Ebrahim”. Instead, she says that Ebrahim pawned with her morals and principles and now the reporter defames her and publicly attacks her character.
The Daily Voice does not respond to this part of the complaint, despite my asking it specifically about this matter.
I turned back to an earlier finding of mine regarding a complaint by Natha about a story in the same newspaper (published on August 6, 2010 and headlined Victims claim agents wore parda and used religion). The same journalist (Cruywagen) then told our office that he interviewed over 50 people who were taking the Ebrahims couple to court. Cruywagen also said that all these interviews were done in the presence of his Muslim colleague photographer, and that all the claimants that he interviewed referred to Natha as the parda woman who used the name of Allah and verses from the Qur’an.
At that time, the question before me was not whether Natha indeed abused the Muslim religion, but only if the newspaper was justified in reporting that she did.
I then noted that nowhere in the story the allegations in dispute were stated as facts – every single time they were attributed to sources.
This brings me back to the story in dispute. Again, the article does not state it as a fact that Ebrahim and her agents misused the Muslim religion to lure people into investing in the ponzi scheme. All it says is that “investigators believe” that that was the case – which, I believe, was reasonable to report.
A general comment is appropriate here. In my experience, one of the most common of mistakes that publications make is to state allegations as facts. Cruywagen did not fall into this trap – neither in the story that Natha complained about, nor in the one at hand. His careful reportage with regards to this specific issue is exemplary.
Finding
Defamation
It is reasonable to believe that any agent of this scheme would probably have been “high on the investigators’ list”. This is not to say that Marlie was guilty, but only that investigators would have looked critically at her involvement in the scheme. This part of the complaint is dismissed.
Subpoenaed
The story does not say that Marlie has been subpoenaed. This part of the complaint is dismissed.
Using her religion
The article does not state it as a fact that Ebrahim and her agents (including Marlie) misused the Muslim religion to lure people into investing in the ponzi scheme. This part of the complaint is dismissed.
Sanction
There is no sanction.
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 reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman