Dina Pule vs Sunday Times-1

Complainant: Dina Pule

Lodged by: Wisane Ngobeni

Article: We wronged the Sunday Times, Pule’s lawyer admits

Date: 22 June 2013

Respondent: Sunday Times-1

Complaint

Pule complains about a story in Sunday Times on 5 May 2013, headlined We wronged the Sunday Times, Pule’s lawyer admits. The same story was published on Times Live on May 16, with a few changes.

Pule complains that the story falsely stated/implied that:

·         attorney Ronny Bokwa had been her lawyer;

·         she had apologised to the Sunday Times after accusing the publication of running a smear campaign against her; and

·         she had a gratuitous relationship with deputy Director-General Themba Phiri.

Pule also complains that:

·         the content of the headline was false; and

·         she was not contacted for comment.

Analysis

The story said that Bokwa told Sunday Times that Phiri had instructed him to broker an “armistice” with the newspaper as they have wronged the publication. Bakwa reportedly said that his perception had been that he had had a mandate to apologise to the newspaper.

The online version materially carried the same content.

Pule’s attorney

The story presented Bokwa as Pule’s attorney.

Pule denies this – “they cannot provide proof that Bokwa is my legal representative because none exist”.

Sunday Times says Bokwa approached Wa Afrika, who told the reporter that he had been acting on behalf of the Department of Communications.

The newspaper adds that:

·         Wa Afrika has known Bokwa for several years;

·         the latter previously provided information to the reporter, and this always proved to be accurate;

·         Bokwa clearly acted in Pule’s interest as he tried to engineer an agreement for the newspaper to drop the Pule story in exchange for another;

·         it was difficult to see what Bokwa stood to gain by misrepresenting himself as he would have placed his professional reputation in jeopardy by doing so;

·         Bokwa told the newspaper that Pule was surprised that Wa Afrika was pursuing the story against her as the two of them had been involved in the struggle together in Bushbuckridge; and

·         Pule has made no attempt to take any action against Phiri or Bokwa – “the only reasonable inference is that the two men were acting on her instruction”.

Sunday Times concludes that it had no reason not to believe Bokwa. “We submit that all of the above made it reasonable to us to accept that Mr Bokwa was acting for Ms Pule. In fact, we submit it is the only reasonable inference to draw.”

The newspaper’s arguments are convincing; I also have no reason to believe that Bokwa misrepresented his position, as a motive for such a possible deception escapes me. This means that I believe that the Sunday Times was justified in reporting Bokwa’s views as representing that of the Department of Communications.

Apologising to Sunday Times

The printed version of the story said that Bokwa told the newspaper that Phiri had informed him that “they” (read: Pule) have wrongly accused the Sunday Times of running a smear campaign against her and that he should broker an “armistice” with the publication. Phiri also reportedly told Bokwa that Pule should not have placed “things” in the public domain.

The intro to the online version (May 16) read: “Less than 24 hours after Communications Minister Dina Pule claimed at a news conference that the Sunday Times investigations team was running a corrupt smear campaign against her, she sent her lawyer to apologise.”

Pule denies that she apologised to Sunday Times. She complains that it was a distortion of the truth and defamatory of her. She says that the story presented this allegation as fact, “misleading readers into believing that I had apologized to the Sunday Times when it was not true”.

Having decided that the Sunday Times was justified to believe that Bokwa had represented Pule, and noting that the printed version of the article attributed this information to him, I have to conclude that the newspaper was justified in quoting Bokwa to this effect.

Gratuitous relationship with Phiri

Pule says that the story falsely implied that she had a gratuitous relationship with deputy Director-General Themba Phiri.

I cannot disagree more. There is no such insinuation in either the published story or in the one that is online.

False headline

The headline read: We wronged the Sunday Times, Pule’s lawyer admits.

Pule complains that the content of the headline was false – which the newspaper denies.

Having accepted that the newspaper was justified in its reportage on this issue, it follows that I do not believe that there was anything wrong with the headline either as it merely reflected the content of the story (as required by Art. 10.1 of the Press Code).

Not contacted for comment

Pule complains that the newspaper did not contacted her for comment, as it should have.

Sunday Times says that it had no reason to approach Pule for comment as it was dealing with people who had been instructed to represent her (Phiri and Bokwa).

This is normal journalistic practice.

General

Pule says that her office issued a statement on May 10 disputing the allegations in the story in question. The newspaper reported on this statement (headlined Minister denies sending lawyer to arrange apology) “but did not amend its initial story”.

The newspaper says that it has adequately put forward Pule’s denial that Bokwa represented her.

I am not ruling on this issue as the follow-up story was not part of Pule’s complaint.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

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