Durban International Convention Centre vs Ukhasi

Complainant: Durban International Convention Centre

Lodged by: Lindsay Black

Article: 

  • The famous ICC staff is getting fired left, right and centre (published on 24 April);
  • Embarrassment about the ICC (22 May); and
  • Braais of celebration after resignation of ICC boss (5 June).

Author of article: 

Date: 16 August 2014

Respondent: Ukhasi

COMPLAINT

The ICC is complaining about three stories and a letter published in UKhasi earlier this year.

They were headlined:

  • The famous ICC staff is getting fired left, right and centre (published on 24 April);
  • Embarrassment about the ICC (22 May); and
  • Braais of celebration after resignation of ICC boss (5 June).

The letter was headlined ICC looks beautiful on the outside, but…

(All these headlines/stories were translated.)

The ICC complains about the following “untrue and damaging” statements (most of which were “allegations stated as fact”):

The first story was about…

  • Unfair dismissals and abusive working conditions at the ICC;
  • CEO Julie-May Ellingson, who reportedly:
    • was previously fired from the Moses Mabhida Stadium because of her abusive behaviour towards members of staff;
    • abused staff at the ICC;
    • spied on internal calls and communications;
    • spied on staff from her home, using web cameras;
    • stripped authority from members of the SACCAWU workers’ union;
    • had an altercation with a staff member, who caused him/her to resign;
    • gave bonuses to her friends only;
    • threatened to fire payroll members who wished to discuss her management decisions with her;
    • showed no respect towards the staff and treated them like children; and
    • was under investigation;
  • Ms Nicolette Elia-Beissel having being involved in theft at the ICC; and
  • Mr Jeremy Hurter having been instructed to change his name.

The second story was about…

  • Executive chef John Moatshe having demanded sexual favours from staff members in order for them to be promoted;
  • The ICC having said that it was no longer interested in hiring women;
  • The ICC having employed staff based on favoritism and friendship;
  • The ICC having employed staff with criminal records, simply placing them on unofficial leave during specific events when their records could pose a security problem;
  • Ellingson having been abusive towards members of staff and mocking UKhasi journalists; and
  • Chairman of the Board Mato Madlala refusing to respond to UKhasi’s letters.

The third story was about…

  • Ellingson having resigned as a result of the intervention of Mr Michael Mabuyathulu in response to her abusive management style; and
  • Staff members having been in tears as a result of Ellingson’s style.

The letter was about…

  • Members of staff having been paid peanuts, not having received salary increases and bonuses, working over-time and working without contracts;
  • The company contracted by the ICC to deal with disciplinary matters having been friendly with management and ill-disposed towards members of staff; and
  • The ICC having been racist and abusive towards members of staff.

THE TEXTS

The first story reported on Ellingson’s allegedly unfair management style and gave examples of members of staff who had been fired. The second story reported that executive chef John Moatshe had demanded sexual favours from staff members in order for them to be promoted. The third story reported that members of staff celebrated after Ellingson resigned (she was to continue her career at the ICC in Cape Town).

The letter, written by a “disgruntled” former member of staff, described the frustration of staff members due to their working conditions and accused the ICC of having been racist and abusive towards the staff.

THE ARGUMENTS

UKhasi says that it did its best to get comment from Ellingson, and “made it clear that the questions were allegations”. Khuzwayo alleges: “We believe her attitude and conduct in dealing with us smacks of attempts to muzzle the media about what is going on at the ICC.”

The news editor adds that:

  • the international status of the ICC makes it “a place of public interest and must be acted upon regardless of the perceived status of the issue at hand”;
  • in many instances the newspaper used more than one source; and
  • the publication remained willing to publish Ellingson’s side of the story.

Khuzwayo also argues that the letter was the view of the individual, and not that of the newspaper.

The ICC replies that it sent a letter to UKhasi on June 3 in which all the incorrect statements in the first two stories were pointed out (as outlined above). “Despite this, the newspaper has declined to take any action to rectify the situation.”

Black adds that, providing the ICC with an opportunity to comment did not justify the newspaper’s publication of such unfounded information. “The incorrect content should not have been published in the first place…”

She points out that Ellingson told the newspaper that she was more than willing to respond to bona fide questions, but that she was not prepared to respond to unfounded and racist allegations. She also denies that the ICC tried to muzzle the press – she says they merely protected their rights and wanted the newspaper to retract the defamatory statements.

AT THE HEARING

After a lengthy discussion, the panel became convinced that the newspaper published unfounded and unverified allegations and that the stories therefore have caused Ellingson and the ICC some unnecessary harm.

We are also satisfied that UKhasi was not malicious in its reporting and that it did not drive any agenda by accepting the integrity of its sources.

The fact that Ellingson has not appropriately responded to the newspaper’s questions contributed towards the harmful reporting.

Both parties agreed that a retraction and an apology should be published.

FINDING

The newspaper is in breach of the following Sections of the Press Code:

  • 2.1: “The press shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”;
  • 2.4: “Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be stated in such report”; and
  • 11.2: “The press shall avoid the use of anonymous sources unless there is no other way to deal with a story. Care should be taken to corroborate the information” (emphasis added)

SANCTION

UKhasi is directed to publish a retraction and an apology, which would initially be drafted by the ICC and then be agreed upon by all affected parties. This text should end with the words: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.”

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.

Brian Gibson (public representative)

Mahmood Sanglay (press representative)

Johan Retief (press ombudsman)

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