Appeal Decision: Ntsiki Matubatuba vs. The Informer

Matubatuba Ntsiki                                                                Applicant

                                                 Vs

The Informer                                                                     Respondent

                                                                             Matter No 508/2014

Decision: Application for Leave to Appeal to the Appeals Panel

1.The Applicant, Ntsiki Matubatuba, felt aggrieved by what appeared in the Respondent’s issue of November 2013 on the front page: “ Municipality fails to explain half a million rand talent search.” The municipality referred to was the Matatiele Local Municipality. It had launched a project in search of musical talent in its area; funds were set aside for this purpose. The essence of the story was that the municipality was unable to explain how that money was being spent. The Applicant was an employee of the municipality, and was in charge of the project in her capacity as the Special Programmes Unit Manager. The journalist-owner of the Respondent visited Applicant’s house, and found that her house was being used as a recording studio by the agent group assisting with the talent search. He took some photos, which accompanied the story that followed. A December issue of the Respondent came up with a follow-up story, titled “Mrs Matubatuba was wrong.”

2. Apart from the allegation that the municipality was not able to explain how the money was being spent, the other aspect of the story was that the Applicant was using her house as a recording studio without the knowledge of the municipality; this was based, inter alia, on the fact that the municipal manager had denied knowledge of the fact that Applicant’s house was being used. The December follow-up was that the Applicant was wrong to say that the recording was done at her house with the knowledge and approval of the municipality. The Applicant’s complaint was that the story suggested corruption, especially on her part; in particular, that she used municipal funds to build the studio at her house. Secondly, she complained that she had not been given the opportunity to put her own version. The Ombudsman dismissed the first complaint; however, he upheld the second one, and imposed a sanction on the Respondent, to wit, a reprimand and, secondly, a directive to the Respondent to publish Applicant’s own version, should she so chose. The Applicant now wants leave to appeal against the Ombudsman’s Ruling; the Ruling is dated 11 March 2014.

4. Regarding the allegations of corruption, the Appellant argues that the Respondent implied that she used municipal funds. But the truth of the matter is that the Respondent did not say so; the story is that she used her house as a studio, a fact which she herself admits. Secondly, what was stated was that it was the municipality, not her, which was unable to explain how the money was spent. The statement  by the Applicant, that “it is possible that some ANC Councilors were involved in the embezzlement of funds through the project…” is not an allegation level against the Applicant, even though she is a member of the ANC (African National Congress). Contrary to what the Applicant further says in her submissions to support this application, one does not see anywhere in the stories that she is “constructing a recording studio in her house embezzling municipal funds.” I notice that, in support of her application for leave to appeal, the Applicant is also giving a lengthy response to the Respondent’s stories. This illustrates the wisdom of the Ombudsman, both as regards his findings against the Respondent as well as his directive that Applicant’s version be published, should she so wish. I am even more convinced that the findings and the Ruling were a correct conclusion.

5. I agree with the findings and the Ruling of the Ombudsman, for the above reasons as well as for the reasons given by him. Accordingly, I hold that the Applicant has no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel. The application for leave to appeal is therefore dismissed.

                   Dated this 14 day of April 2014

                                       Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel.