ANC vs Mail & Guardian

Complainant: ANC

Lodged by: Jackson Mthethwa

Date: 4 August 2012

Respondent: Mail & Guardian

Complaint

The ANC complains about a story in the Mail & Guardian on 15 June 2012 and headlined ‘Prove you’re not a dictator’: NEC in heated Zuma attack.

The ANC complains that the following statements in the story are untrue, namely that:

  • Pres Jacob Zuma was attacked;
  • General Siphiwe Nyanda said that the ANC is under dictatorship, and that Zuma must prove his credentials if he was not a dictator;
  • Mr Tokyo Sexwale said that Zuma was suppressing debate within the ANC;
  • Mr Tony Yengeni said that Dr Blade Nzimande was a new-comer to the ANC;
  • Zuma said that he always thought that the current Youth League leadership won’t last; and
  • the Gauteng Provincial General Council proposed an alternative to Zuma for ANC president.

The ANC also complains that the newspaper based its reportage on a malicious SMS and ignored its official account of the meeting.

Analysis

The story starts as follows: “Zuma’s backers and foes in the ANC’s top brass have nailed their colours to the mast in a fiery (NEC) meeting in which he was accused of suppressing debate.” It also says that senior leader General Siphiwe Nyanda, who led the “assault” on Zuma, challenged him to prove that he was not a dictator. The review application by the ANC Youth League and its expelled president, Mr Julius Malema, reportedly exposed sharp divisions in the ANC’s top leadership.

In its reply to the complaint the M&G says that it scarcely used the SMS, but largely based the story on information from four independent sources (from inside the NEC) who attended the meeting. It also points me to “supportive reports” in both the Sunday Times and City Press.

Untrue statements

The story ascribes all the statements that the ANC complains about to sources. These sources had the right to say what they did, and the newspaper had the right to publish them. The issue, therefore, is about the credibility of these sources.

I asked the editor of the M&G if he could reveal their names to me, but he was in no position to do so – a decision that I respect.

These are my considerations:
  • If the story stated any of the allegations as fact, the onus would have been on the newspaper to prove the veracity of its information – however, none of these statements were presented as fact, but consistently as the sources’ opinion (a fact that I commend the newspaper on);
  • The newspaper had a right to use confidential sources (implied in Art. 12.1 of the Press Code);
  • I have no reason to disbelieve the editor, namely that the journalist used four independent, “insider” sources;
  • The journalist corroborated the information from the first source, as required by Art. 12.2 of the Code; and
  • Newspapers other that the M&G carried the same story, who also quoted their own (anonymous) sources.

Ignoring the ANC’s official account

The ANC complains that the newspaper based its reportage on a malicious SMS and ignored its official account of the meeting.

I take into account that the story:
  • also made use of sources and did not only base its information solely on an SMS; and
  • carried ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe’s denial of several allegations.
Finding
The complaint is dismissed.
Appeal

Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, either party 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 contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman

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