Dan Nkosi vs Sowetan

Complainant: Dan Nkosi

Lodged by: Dan Nkosi

Article: Meeting to resolve college impasse ‘a waste of time’

Author of article: Vusi Xaba

Date: 1 October 2013

Respondent: Sowetan

Complaint

Mr Dan Nkosi complains about a story on page 5 in Sowetan on 2 August 2013, headlined Meeting to resolve college impasse ‘a waste of time’.

Nkosi complains that the story:

·         misrepresented what happened at a meeting; and

·         defamed him without asking him for his side of the story.

Analysis

The story, written by Vusi Xaba, said that students and lecturers at Soweto’s South West Gauteng College had described a meeting about the disruption of classes as a waste of time. The journalist reported that the SA Students Congress and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) had both called for Nkosi’s suspension whom they had accused of corruption (after “equipment has gone missing”). Another allegation levelled against Nkosi was reportedly that he was not transparent regarding bursary funds after some students have allegedly experienced problems with financial matters.

Misrepresenting the meeting

Nkosi complains that the story only reflected the opinion of one or two of the seven stakeholders “which was not even a true reflection of the meeting”.

He does not explain exactly why the journalist did not accurately reflect the meeting. The only statement in the story about the meeting itself was an accusation by sources that it had been a waste of time. I therefore assume that Nkosi refutes this specific claim.

I note that the story:

·         referred to “students” and “lecturers”, which implies that the opinion that the meeting had been a waste of time was ascribed to more than “one or two” people; and

·         reported the “waste of time” as an opinion of people and not as fact.

 

Surely, these sources were entitled to their opinion, and the newspaper certainly was justified in reporting exactly that.

Defamation without consulting

Nkosi complains that the story defamed him (see the summary of the article above) without asking him for his side of the story.

Firstly, about defamation: This is a matter for the courts, and not for this office. However, the Press Code does deal with dignity and reputation. I note that the story consistently ascribed the issues in question to people who attended the meeting. Again, these people had the right to explain their concerns, and likewise the newspaper was justified to report their views.

Secondly, Sowetan says that Xaba tried to speak to him during a protest that was held a day before the meeting to obtain his response to the allegations levelled against him. The newspaper states: “Nkosi responded by attempting to take Vathiswa Ruselo’s camera (the photographer) to smash it – Sowetan is in possession of amateur video footage on a part of this scuffle. Nkosi was, according to Xaba, then escorted away by police… Xaba dismisses Nkosi’s assertion that there was no attempt to seek his opinion.”

Nkosi denies that Xaba tried to get his comment and calls Xaba’s response an “outright fabrication”. He says: “At no point did he try to speak to me. I do not even know him, have never met him, so he could not have found me dismissive.”

I shall ignore the newspaper’s statements about Nkosi’s attempt to take the photographer’s camera (which was true), to smash it (which was not evident at all), about a scuffle (which was also not evident), and that the principal was escorted by police (he was accompanied by one policeman) – as Xaba did not report any of these alleged happenings.

It is not clear from the footage that the journalist asked Nkosi for comment. In light of the fact that Sowetan did not provide me with any proof that Xaba did make an attempt to get his views, I am not in a position to accept the newspaper’s defence on this matter as I have no grounds to do so. Also, the Press Code is clear that the story should have stated that the journalist tried to, but was unable to get comment from him.

Finding

Misrepresenting the meeting

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Defamation without consulting

The part of the complaint that deals with defamation is dismissed.

The neglect by the journalist to ask Nkosi for comment is in breach of Section 2.5 of the Press Code that states:

·         “A publication shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…”; and

·         “…If the publication is unable to obtain such comment, this shall be stated in the report.”

Sanction

Sowetan is reprimanded for not:

·         asking Nkosi for comment prior to publication; and

·         reporting that it was unable to obtain such comment.

The newspaper is directed to obtain Nkosi’s comment on the allegations levelled against him in the story (if indeed he wants to comment), and to publish it as part of the text below. His comments should be of reasonable length, approximately 4 – 6 sentences, and this office should approve the text prior to publication. The text below should be published on page 5:

The Press Ombudsman has reprimanded Sowetan for not asking Mr Dan Nkosi, principal of the South West Gauteng College, for comment prior to the publication of a story on 2 August 2013, headlined Meeting to resolve college impasse ‘a waste of time’.

The story, written by Vusi Xaba, said that students and lecturers at Soweto’s South West Gauteng College had described a meeting about the disruption of classes as a “waste of time”. Some concerned people reportedly had called for Nkosi’s suspension, whom they had accused of corruption (after “equipment has gone missing”).

The Ombudsman, Johan Retief, also reprimanded us for not reporting that we were unable to obtain Nkosi’s comment, as required by the Press Code.

NKOSI’S COMMENTS, IF APPROPRIATE.

Retief dismissed the other parts of Nkosi’s complaint, namely that we misrepresented what had happened at the meeting, and that we defamed him.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

End of text

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 Chair of Appeals, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds for the application. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman

 

 

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