EduSolutions vs The Sunday Independent

Complainant: EduSolutions

Lodged by: Moosa Ntimba

Article: EduSolutions wins new contract in Gauteng

Author of article: Loyiso Sidimba

Date: 20 July 2013

Respondent: The Sunday Independent

Complaint

EduSolutions, a distribution firm, complains about a story in The Sunday Independent headlined EduSolutions wins new contract in Gauteng”, and published on 2 June 2013.                                               Ntimba complains that the story falsely claimed that the company bungled the delivery of Learning and Teaching Support Material (LTSM) in Limpopo in 2012, and says that the story was malicious.

Analysis

The story, written by Loyiso Sidimba, said amongst other things the following:

  • “The Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has awarded a multi-million rand contract to provide textbooks and learner-support material to the controversial distribution firm, EduSolutions – just a month before Public Protector Thuli Madonsela completes her investigation into the company’s notorious bungling of a similar contract in Limpopo”;
  • “In Limpopo, EduSolutions was paid more than R404m between December 2010 and March last year before its contract was terminated last June after a series of bungles”; and
  • “…EduSolutions’ initial Limpopo contract of R1.3 billion…was later dropped to about R600m after the Limpopo Education Department was placed under administration”.

EduSolutions complains that these claims were false – it says that it was not able to execute its mandate in 2012 due to the Limpopo Department’s lack of funds and the subsequent cancellation of the contract. Ntimba adds that EduSolutions was not found culpable of any wrong-doing by independent investigations conducted in the latter half of 2012 (referring to the reports by Prof Mary Metcalfe and the Presidential Task Team).

I shall deal with the three bullets (above) one by one:

Inaccurate reporting

                                    ‘Bungle’, ‘controversial’

The gist of the complaint hinges on the word “bungle”.

Please note: My question is not if EduSolutions was indeed (partly or fully) responsible for the non-delivery of textbooks (this office is not a court of law), but rather if the newspaper was justified in its reporting on this matter.

The newspaper also directed me to Metcalfe’s document (titled: Report: Verification of text books deliveries in Limpopo).

On p21 (Section 8.2) this report says: “The DBE (Department of Basic Education) has provided the following information: The original order for LTSM developed by the LDOE (Limpopo Department of Education) in 2011 amounted to around R655 million. In January 2012, the order developed by EduSolutions was made available to the DBE. This order was not credible for a number of reasons e.g. some schools ordered 100% for top-ups; ordered various titles for the same grade per subject and ordered Maths and Science books (grade 10-12) which the DBE was providing free of charge. The order was cleaned up by the DBE which reduced the amount from R655million to R249 million. This was further reduced when publishers were requested to provide fresh quotations in a competitive bidding process. This further reduced the amount to R126 million.” (emphases added)

The report refers the reader Section 19 (p 66) that states the following: “The report has not searched for ‘culprits’. It is accepted that officials are accountable for performance of their responsibilities. But the chain of error extends across the process: from the reckless over-spending of the LDoE which precipitated this failure; to the inexplicable 5-month delay in proceeding with the ordering of textbooks; to the system failures in the last few weeks when officials were asked to deliver books in time-frames that were clearly impossible.” (emphasis added)

From the above, the following is clear:

  • The DBE at least partly blamed EduSolutions for the problems regarding the delivery of textbooks; and
  • Metcalfe concluded that the problems extended “across the process”.

My conclusion, from a journalistic perspective, is that the newspaper was justified in putting part of the blame on EduSolutions – but not all of it (as some part of the blame lied elsewhere). Unfortunately, the story indeed created that impression, which was false and unfair.

With regards to the use of the word “controversial”: In a report to Parliament, dated September 3, 2012, the reason given for the cancellation of the contract with EduSolutions was “the fact that the company was subject to serious investigation”.

Surely, this justified the use of the word “controversial”.

‘Series of bungles’

The relevant sentence stated: “In Limpopo, EduSolutions was paid more than R404m between December 2010 and March last year before its contract was terminated last June after a series of bungles.”

In dispute is the phrase “a series of bungles” – which the reporter did not attribute or state as an allegation, but as fact.

I asked the journalist to provide me with evidence that would justify the use of that phrase. He could not do so.

This led me to believe that, while the journalist was justified in using the word “bungle” to some extent and as far as one instance was concerned, he was not justified in referring to “a series of bungles”. This was incorrect and unfair and it probably caused EduSolutions some serious, unnecessary harm.

R1.3 billion reduced

The sentence in dispute said: “…EduSolutions’ initial Limpopo contract of R1.3 billion…was later dropped to about R600m after the Limpopo Education Department was placed under administration”.

The report to Parliament (mentioned above) read: “The initial tabling for Learner Teacher Support Materials (LTSM) in Limpopo, with EduSolutions as the service provider, stood at about R1.3 billion, an amount which did not have the approval of the Provincial Treasury. With the Section 100(1)(b) intervention, this amount was reduced to about R600 million; and consequently, R249 million was approved as part of the budget allocation for the 2012/13 financial year.”

Clearly, the journalist was justified in its reportage on this specific matter. (Again, this is not a verdict that the content of these sentences was correct.)

Malicious reporting

EduSolutions complains that the story was malicious.

I am not going to contemplate this part of the complaint – I need much more evidence in order to be convinced that the reporter was malicious or that he had any such intent.

Finding

Inaccurate reporting

‘Bungle’, ‘controversial’

The use of the word “bungling” was justified and the complaint about the use of that word is therefore dismissed.

However, the impression created by the story that EduSolutions was mainly or even solely responsible for the non-delivery of textbooks was an exaggeration and unfair to the company. This is in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

  • 2.1: “The press shall take care to report news…fairly”; and
  • 2.2: “News shall be presented…in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from facts whether by…exaggeration…”

The complaint about the use of the word “controversial” is dismissed.

‘Series of bungles’

The reference to a “series of bungles” was in breach of Section 2.1 of the Code: “The press shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.”

R1.3 billion reduced

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Malicious reporting

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Sanction

The Sunday Independent is:

  • directed to withdraw the incorrect and unfair statement that EduSolutions’s contract was terminated after a “series of bungles”, and directed to apologise for the serious and unnecessary harm that this has probably caused that company;
  • reprimanded for creating the wrong and unfair impression that EduSolutions was mainly or solely to be blamed for the bungling of the delivery of textbooks to schools in Limpopo; and
  • directed to publish the text below on the same page as the offending story.

Beginning of text

The Sunday Independent withdraws the incorrect and unfair statement that the distribution firm EduSolutions’s contract to deliver textbooks to schools in Limpopo in 2012 was terminated after a “series of bungles”, and apologises for the serious and unnecessary harm that we probably caused the company in the process.

Press Ombudsman Johan Retief also reprimanded us for creating the wrong and unfair impression that EduSolutions was mainly or solely to be blamed for the bungling of the delivery of textbooks to schools in Limpopo (as part of the blame lied elsewhere).

He dismissed the rest of the complaint, which included that our reporter was malicious, and stated that we were justified in calling the company “controversial”.

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.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman

 

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