Bheki Cele vs Sunday Times (Zulu Edition)

Complainant: Bheki Cele

Lodged by:  Vuyo Mkhize

Article:  Noise about Bheki Cele at Lamontville

Author of article: Mandla Zulu

Date: 17 April 2013

Respondent: Sunday Times (Zulu Edition)

Complaint

Gen Bheki Cele complains about a story in the Sunday Times on 11 November 2012 and headlined Noise about Bheki Cele at Lamontville.

Cele complains that the story inaccurately said that:

·         he campaigned to be elected as the new chairman of the ANC Lamontville branch;

·         this campaign was to be blamed for scuffles at the meeting;

·         he uttered the words “viva Malema!”; and

·         he called for his branch not to vote for Pres Jacob Zuma’s re-election at the (then) upcoming Mangaung conference.

He also complains that the journalist used anonymous sources without first corroborating his information with independent sources.

Analysis

The story, written by Mandla Zulu, said that fired police commissioner Cele had caused ructions at an ANC meeting (on 27 October 2012) in Lamontville and that he had been accused of trying to unseat Pres Jacob Zuma at the ANC’s leaders conference (at Mangaung in December 2012).

The first four parts of the complaint

The story says that Cele:

·         campaigned to be elected as the new chairman of the ANC Lamontville branch;

·         and his followers destroyed ballot papers to stop the meeting from taking place (and that violence broke out as a result of that);

·         said “viva Malema!” (which made people “very angry”); and

·         called on his branch not to vote for Zuma’s re-election at the (then) upcoming ANC Mangaung conference.

Cele denies the above; the newspaper says that it stands by its story. There was some light at the end of the tunnel, though, as Mkhize (in his complaint) declared that an unedited dvd version of the meeting was available. He promised that he would send it to me if necessary.

As that was the only way to establish the truth, I duly asked (on April 3) for this recording. I repeated this request the next day. Mkhize then promptly replied that he had requested their audio-visual provider to produce a copy of the relevant dvd, and promised to deliver it to this office by the end of business on April 10.

This never happened (despite our office sending him our office address).

I then wrote the following message to Mkhize on Monday, April 15: “Despite your promise, I have not received the recording yet. I am going to dismiss the complaint if I have not received the recording by Wednesday at noon (April 17).”

As this has not happened, and indeed I have not received any further correspondence from Mkhize regarding this issue, I have no option but to dismiss this part of the complaint.

No corroboration

Cele complains that the journalist did not corroborate his information with independent sources. (He says that he does not believe that Zulu spoke with three independent sources.)

He adds that the journalist used anonymous sources without first corroborating his information with independent sources. He admits that the reporter did tell him that he had corroborated his information with the ANC eThekwini Regional Secretary, Mr Bheki Ntshangase – but adds that the latter was not even at the meetings in question.

The newspaper says that it relied on three independent sources “at all times”, who were present at both meetings.

Here are my considerations:

·         The Press Code allows for the use of anonymous sources (if there is no other way of obtaining information); and

·         I have no grounds to disbelieve the newspaper that it had used three independent, credible sources – Cele did not provide any (credible) reasons for disbelieving that the newspaper had used three independent sources.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

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 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