Buyani Mdluli vs Ilanga

Complainant: Buyani Mdluli

Lodged by: Buyani Mdluli

Article: Inhlanzi ingase ishelwe amanzi

Author of article: Thami Shangase

Date: 12 November 2014

Respondent: Ilanga

Complaint

Mdluli is complaining about an article published in Ilanga on 9 October 2014, headlined Inhlanzi ingase ishelwe amanzi.

Mdluli complains that the newspaper:

  • published the unverified allegation about him that someone had given him confidential documents or information;
  • did not give him a right of reply; and
  • has harmed his reputation.

The text

The story, written by Thami Shangase, says Mr Nhlandhla Mpondi’s days seem to be numbered. Mpondi, the HR manager at the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, faced eight charges, including negligence for extending the contracts of interns without proper approval.

The journalist also reports that Mpondi gave Mdluli confidential information – of which the newspaper had “proof” or “evidence”. (The newspaper explains that the words “proof” or “evidence” refer to the fact that the newspaper was in possession of the file containing the charges.)

Analysis

Ilanga says a report of an investigation by the office of the KZN premier was leaked to the newspaper. This document also contained details of the charges against Mpondi, as well as the reference to Mdluli.

The editor adds: “We were…merely informing the public about an investigation that was kept [secret]… We did not contact people whose names were mentioned in the report because we were not conducting an investigation. We did not think that it was necessary…because we felt that was the function of the investigators. We further felt that it was best be left to the ongoing judicial hearing to call all those mention[ed]in the report (including Mr Mdluli) to make their own submissions about their alleged involvement in what was taking place in the legislature.”

In Mdluli’s response to the above, he says he finds it strange that the newspaper did not solicit comment from the KZN legislature, and he reiterates that Ilanga violated the Press Code by publishing his name and the allegation against him without contacting him for a response.

My considerations

Ilanga was fully within its rights to publish the content of the investigation by the office of the KZN premier – it was in the public interest to do so, as the people involved were public officials (who are, or should be, accountable to the public).

If the newspaper asked the people involved for comment, it might have interfered with the premier’s investigation. Also, Mdluli does not have the standing to complain that the newspaper did not solicit comment from the KZN legislature.

Moreover, the story makes it clear that the matter was being investigated, which clearly implies that nobody has been found guilty (yet). I therefore also do not believe that the story has caused unnecessary harm to Mdluli’s reputation.

However, the reference in the story to “proof” or “evidence” (that Mpondi gave Mdluli confidential information) is misleading. I accept the newspaper’s explanation to this effect (as mentioned above), but I also believe it owes the public the same explanation. As it stands, the story states as fact that Mdluli did receive such information (which still has to be investigated by the premier’s office).

At the time of publication, these words were neither truthful, nor accurate, nor fair.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed, except for the use of the word “proof” or “evidence”, which was misleading. This is in breach of Section 2.1 of the Press Code that says: “The press shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.”

Sanction

Ilanga is:

  • reprimanded for the misleading use of the word “proof” or “evidence”;
  • directed to publish the explanation that it gave this office, which should include a reference to the reprimand;
  • asked to end the text with the following words: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”; and
  • directed to provide this office with the text prior to publication.

Appeal

Our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working 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

 

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