ANC Youth League (Limpopo) vs Sunday Independent

Complainant: ANC Youth League

Lodged by: Frans Moshwane

Article: Malema ally detained – Hawks allegedly find him with R2m

Date: 19 September 2012

Respondent: Sunday Independent

Complaint

Mr Frans Moshwane complains about a story in the Sunday Independent on 6 November 2011and headlined Malema ally detained – Hawks allegedly find him with R2m.

He complains that the story falsely stated that the Hawks had detained and questioned Mr Jacob Lebogo, despite its denial to this effect.

Analysis

The story said that the Hawks had briefly detained Lebogo, a key ally of Mr Julius Malema, in its probe of corruption fraud and money laundering involving millions of rands in tenders.

The Sunday Independent said that it had three independent sources (who need to remain anonymous), two from inside the Hawks, and argued that the newspaper had therefore corroborated its information as required by the Press Code. At the meeting, Sefara (the editor at the time of publication) testified that one of these sources had been present when Lebogo was allegedly detained. He also, quite credibly, explained how he went about to corroborate the information.

At the hearing, I explained that it was not my task to establish whether or not Lebogo had been detained and questioned – I am not a judge and my office is not a court of law. My sole job is to establish it the newspaper was reasonable in its reporting.

These are my (general) considerations:

  • I have no reason to disbelieve the newspaper regarding its testimony about its sources;
  • If a newspaper has three independent and credible sources, it is justified to publish its information; and
  • This does not necessarily mean that the content of the story was accurate – only that it was reasonable for the publication to report its information.

This brings me to the relevant article in the Press Code, and to the story itself.

Art. 1.3 of the Code states: “Only what may reasonably be true, having regard to the sources of the news, may be presented as fact, and such facts shall be published fairly with due regard to context and importance. Where a report is not based on facts or is founded on opinion, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly.”

At the hearing, I tested the newspaper on the second sentence. I also stated that the story’s headline may have been inaccurate, as it stated it as fact that Lebogo was detained, and suggested that it may consider to change the headline on its website.

At that stage, the second sentence of Art. 1.3 weighed heavily on my mind. However, I was also still weighing up the options…

So now I have reconsidered the matter.

Regarding the story: The first two sentences stated it as fact that Lebogo had been detained. Only from the third sentence onwards, it mentioned its sources.

Sefara argued at the hearing that this was common practice, and that it was clear that the information in the first two sentences came from sources.

This may or may not be true. However, I need to say that, in general, journalists should be careful not to state an opinion as the truth.

Be that as it may, I also need to consider the following words in the Code: “Only what may reasonably be true, having regard to the sources of the news, may be presented as fact…” This means that information (read: opinion) from sources may be presented as fact – if the sources are credible enough.

This leaves me with one question and one question only: Were the sources credible enough for the newspaper to have presented their information as fact?

At the hearing, Sefara explained that a source from within the Hawks had tipped him off. This source mentioned an amount of R2 million. He informed his staff about this tip-off, but refrained from mentioning the R2 million. The deputy editor then got hold of a second source, and a journalist of a third – who both gave the same information about the amount of money.

I also take into account that one of these sources was not from the Hawks.

Given this situation, I believe that the newspaper’s sources were credible enough for it to have presented their information as fact.

This also means that the headline, which stated it as fact that Lebogo was detained, was justified.

I also note that the story did include Lebogo’s denial of the 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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