Deena Moodley vs Sunday Times

Complainant: Deena Moodley

Article: All expenses paid – How rogue ‘agent’ used police funds to pay his relatives, doctors and dentist

Date: 15 August 2012

Respondent: Sunday Times

Complaint

Major-General Deena Moodley complains about a story in the Sunday Times on 22 April 2012 and headlined All expenses paid – How rogue ‘agent’ used police funds to pay his relatives, doctors and dentist.

Moodley complains that the:

·       story inaccurately said that she had been invited as a VIP guest at businessman Panganathan Marimuthu’s lavish 50th birthday party last July; and

·       journalist did not contact him for comment prior to publication.

Analysis

The story reported on Marimuthu who allegedly was a close friend of former Commissioner of Police Bheki Cele and who reportedly was convicted for drug dealing. Marimuthu and his family also were reportedly beneficiaries of police funds. The story said that Moodley attended a lavish birthday party of Marimuthu as a VIP guest.

Invited

The sentence that forms the basis of the complaint read: “Cele, Lazarus and the head of crime intelligence in KwaZulu-Natal, Major-General Deena Moodley, were VIP guests at Marimuthu’s lavish 50th birthday party in the posh suburb of La Lucia, Durban, last July.”

Moodley denies that he attended the party or that he was invited to it. He claims that the perception created by the story is that he was in some way associated with Marimuthu and that he was one of the “crooked crime intelligence officials”.

Sunday Times says that it spoke to two people who attended the party who told it that they saw Moodley there. The newspaper adds that a third person, who was close to Moodley, confirmed this information. None of these sources is willing to be named.

The two sources at the party bother me – they could have had ulterior motives, wanting to put Moodley in a bad light. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to independently decide how credible they are.

The same goes for the source “close to Moodley”, who also could have had ulterior motives.

On the other hand, this is not necessarily the case.

This leaves me with an impossible situation – it is one person’s word against the other, without the slightest piece of evidence to base a responsible decision on.

Not contacted for comment

Moodley says that the newspaper could have contacted him to confirm or deny his attendance at the party. As a result his reputation was impaired and his work as a crime intelligence officer was negatively affected.

Sunday Times says it was unable to contact him – he was suspended and could not be contacted through police lines. The person who usually acted as the middle person in its dealings with Moodley refused to give the reporter his phone number in connection with the story in question. The newspaper adds that as a member of crime intelligence Moodley’s number was never available to the press. It therefore was unable to obtain his number prior to publication.

In his reply to the newspaper’s response Moodley persists in stating that the newspaper’s allegation was false and says that the newspaper had in fact recently contacted him on his mobile phone. He says he has been linked to corrupt conduct and requires his name to be cleared.

It may be that the newspaper obtained this number only after publication and this telephone call cannot be used as proof that the newspaper could have contacted him before publication of the article.

This leaves me with the same impossible situation as above – it is one party’s word against the other.

Finding

I am in no position to come to a responsible finding. I also do not believe that a hearing will solve this matter, as neither party is likely to admit to a lie (because one of the parties is not telling the truth – they can’t both be right).

The newspaper has, however, offered to publish Moodley’s denial that he attended the party. This, I believe, would resolve the matter.

Sanction

Sunday Times is directed to publish Moodley’s denial that he attended the party.

The newspaper should furnish this office with the text prior to publication. The text should end with: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2012) for the full finding.”

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