Jimmy Manyi vs City Press

Complainant: Jimmy Manyi

Article: Manyi survives the week

Date: 10 December 2010

Respondent: City Press

Complaint
Mr J. Manyi, the president of the Black Management Forum (BMF), complains about two stories in City Press, headlined Manyi survives the week (published October 10, 2010) and BMF task team on Manyi comes under fire (October 24). Both stories were written by Mpho Sibanyoni.
The first story
Manyi’s main complaint is that the statement that the AGM requested the BMF’s board to set up a task team to investigate him is untrue.
He also complains that:
  • there never was a BMF media statement;
  • the statement that he had convened a special board meeting and tried to reverse the AGM’s decision to have him investigated is untrue;
  • the statement that he was advised against convening the special board meeting is untrue;
  • the statement that he declined to comment is untrue; and
  • the headline is misleading.
The second story
Manyi complains that there is no task team “on him”.
Analysis
The first story says that Manyi was battling to maintain his position as president of the BMF as senior members of the body wanted to oust him. Previous BMF presidents Lot Ndlovu, Nolitha Fakude and Bheki Sibiya reportedly accused Manyi of leadership incompetence, arrogance, amateurism, lacking logic and of political smearing of his detractors. They were part of a group within the BMF calling itself the “Concerned Group” (CG). The story also says that Manyi convened a special board meeting to reverse a decision taken at an AGM to have him investigated.
The second story builds on the first, saying that the BMF has set up a task team to investigate allegations levelled at Manyi as well as to look into the procedure followed by the CG in raising allegations against Manyi.
We shall now consider the merits of the complaint:
The first story:
Task team to investigate Manyi
In a sense, this is the heart of the complaint.
The sentence in dispute reads: “…(the AGM) requested the board to set up a task team to investigate both Manyi and the stalwarts”. (emphasis added to highlight the complaint)
Manyi denies that there ever was a decision to investigate him. In related statements, he denies that his position as president was ever threatened, that BMF structures had ever endorsed the “wild claims and demands” by the CG, and that he ever was the subject of discussion in any board meeting or in the AGM.
City Press says Manyi does not dispute the following, which is “common cause”:
  • the CG lodged a letter of complaint with the BMF Board and later issued a press release in which his leadership style at the BMF was criticized;
  • the CM group consists of seemingly high-profile persons within the BMF such as a number of former BMF presidents;
  • A task team was appointed by the BMF Board with a mandate to investigate, amongst other things, a letter from the CG (that contained allegations against Manyi).
With regards to the composition of the CG, the nature of the complaint publicly aired by this group and the mandate of the task team, the newspaper adds that:
  • it appears “by all accounts” that the CG launched a direct and personal attack on Manyi as president of the BMF;
  • this attack could reasonably be interpreted as a threat to his position at the BMF; and
  • describing the task team as one “on Manyi” is fair, since the CG levelled their allegations directly and personally against him.
Manyi replies to this, saying that he was elected unopposed in 2009 by BMF’s branches. He says that Ndlovu, Sibiya and Fakude were not leaders of any branch or small committee in the BMF. They therefore had “no capacity to pronounce for the organization nor influence how the organization thinks…”
He adds that the only other structure that can depose a BMF president is the board – a meeting that Manyi says he came out of “smiling”. He says that the CG “had failed dismally” (at the board meeting) and the City Press should have known that. The AGM also did not “pronounce at all” about him, he says.
Manyi reiterates that there is “no investigation or even envisaged investigation” on him – what is being investigated, he says, is the flouting procedure by the CG and the veracity of the substance of their allegations. “City Press has no right to prejudge the outcome of the probe on the substance and conclude that therefore Manyi is being probed!”
We shall now focus on Manyi’s complaint and related statements, namely that:
  • there never was a decision to investigate him;
  • his position as president was never threatened;
  • no BMF structures have ever endorsed the “wild claims and demands” by the CG; and
  • he never was the subject of discussion in any board meeting or in the AGM.
Firstly then (with regards to Manyi being investigated or not), we’ll have to take a close look at two documents that the newspaper provided our office with.
In a letter by Ndlovu, addressed to the BMF board and dated September 29, 2010, he calls for an urgent board meeting “where a motion of no confidence in the presidency should be passed unless they have voluntarily offered to vacate the office”.
Part of his motivation reads as follows: “The presidency has displayed a frightening brand of arrogance, amateurism and lack of logic. The BMF is, therefore, less respected than it was before – precisely because there is no internal respect.”
The second document is a direct consequence of the first. It is headlined: Terms of Reference: BMF Task Team, wherein the BMF appointed a task team consisting of five members. Its mandate was twofold, namely to investigate:
  • the process followed by the CG in raising their grievance; and
  • “whether the issues raised by the concerned group has substance”.
The latter part of this mandate is important. From this, it is clear that the task team was to investigate “issues raised”. Allegations, therefore. But these allegations were mainly directed against Manyi himself. If one investigates allegations directed against a person, it would be impossible to do so without also focusing on the person him/herself. The phrase “to investigate Manyi” is therefore materially correct, even though it may be a little strong.
It is indeed not a matter of “prejudging”, as Manyi says.
Moreover, the sentence stating that a task team would investigate Manyi is followed by a direct quote that reads: “ ‘The AGM has mandated the board to form a task team that will engage on the substantive matters raised by the concerned members of the BMF,’ says a BMF media statement on Friday.” (The fact that it was not a media statement but a draft statement from the CG is not relevant at this stage – we shall come back to this.)
The newspaper, therefore, had two documents to rely on – one by the BMF and another by the CG. These two considerations combined made the newspaper’s reportage reasonable.
Secondly Manyi downplays the role and stature of the three former BMF presidents, saying that his position as president was never threatened.
It may be true that the ex-presidents did not occupy positions of leadership in the BMF at the time, yet it is reasonable to accept that (together) they still had quite some influence in the organization. Also, the task team’s terms of reference is clear – the issues raised (regarding Manyi) were to be investigated, the outcome of which may have threatened his position. Coupled with Ndlovu’s request for a vote of no confidence in Manyi, it was reasonable for the newspaper to insinuate that Manyi’s position was threatened.
Note that this is not a “verdict” to the effect that his position was indeed threatened – only that, based on the information at its disposal at the time, it was reasonable for the newspaper to create that impression.
Lastly, Manyi’s assertion that no BMF structures have ever endorsed the “wild claims and demands” by the CG and that he never was the subject of discussion in any board meeting or in the AGM may quite possibly be true. A decision was taken to form a task team to investigate – and it would have been premature to either endorse or to even discuss him at that stage.
BMF media statement
The story refers to a “BMF media statement”.
Manyi says there has never been such a statement.
City Press admits this, saying that the document it referred to was rather a draft statement by the CG. When made aware of this, it published a retraction and an apology the following week (October 17).
A copy of this document is in our office’s possession.
Special board meeting to reverse the AGM’s decision to have Manyi investigated
The story says that Manyi convened a special board meeting and “tried to reverse the AGM’s decision to have him investigated”. This information, the story adds, is based on three independent sources.
Manyi calls the sentence in question a “blue lie”, saying that there was never such a decision at the AGM nor was there any such discussion at the board.
City Press says that:
  • it “seems common cause” that Manyi called a special board meeting shortly after the AGM. The newspaper notes that Manyi does not dispute the fact that he convened the meeting; and
  • it got its information regarding this matter from three independent sources. It adds: “Two of the sources indicated that they have no alliance with either Mr Manyi or the Concerned Members, but are concerned about the manner in which both sides are acting to the detriment of the BMF”.
The statement in dispute is indeed preceded by a reference to “three independent sources” who reportedly gave the newspaper this information. I have no reason to doubt this; Manyi also does not dispute it. The newspaper was therefore justified in its reportage.
However, this again does not necessarily mean that the statement itself is true.
Advised against ‘the move’
The story says that Manyi was advised not to try and reverse the AGM decision “as it could be viewed as undermining the AGM”.
Manyi denies this.
The newspaper does not respond to this part of the complaint.
From the context it can reasonably be argued that the statement in question can be ascribed to the three sources that the story mentions in the sentence immediately prior to the sentence in dispute.
Declined to comment
The story says that Manyi, at a BMF gala dinner a few days prior to the publication of this story, “declined to comment”.
Manyi says that nothing was put to him to respond to. He argues that he was the host and that he “simply did not have time for interviews”, adding that there were three Ministers at his table.
City Press says that:
  • its journalist (Sibanyoni) attempted to call Manyi on October 8, but he did not answer his phone;
  • Sibanyoni then sent an SMS to him, to which Manyi failed to respond;
  • the journalist approached Manyi at the gala dinner for comment, but was told that it was an inopportune time;
  • Sibanyoni phoned him the next day, but Manyi again failed to answer; and
  • Manyi knew that the allegations by the CG were in the public domain, “especially since these allegations were discussed at the AGM” and he also knew that the newspaper was seeking comment from him on this issue – yet he failed to make use of the opportunities to comment.
The newspaper adds that it also afforded Manyi a right of reply (after the October 24 article) and/or to publish a letter from him setting out his responses. Manyi rejected these offers, the newspaper says.
To this, Manyi replies that:
  • it was not reasonable for Sibanyoni to expect him to respond to a telephone call at the height of the goings on in a conference where he was officiating;
  • he never received any SMS from Sibanyoni;
  • it was not reasonable to expect from him to desert three Ministers at his table, one of whom was representing the President, and to conduct an interview with a journalist who did not make an appointment with him;
  • on the next day, he rested after a hectic three days and also attended a church meeting (he says he does not take his phone to church); and
  • the newspaper’s offer of a right to reply and/or to publish a letter from him is “paternalistic”. “Why does City Press think they know what is good for me? Is it because I am black? Indeed I want them to retract their lies, defaming statements and substandard journalism.”
I have asked City Press to supply me with any kind of evidence to support its claim that it indeed tried to contact Manyi. The newspaper telephonically responded that the journalist could not comply as his cell phone was stolen; it also said that it had difficulty in retrieving calls made from its offices.
This is unfortunate.
Manyi is correct: He cannot reasonably be expected to give an impromptu interview whilst in the midst of a conference or at a gala dinner, with Ministers at his table. The following sentence is therefore unfair: “At the BMF gala dinner at the Sandton Convention Centre on Friday, Manyi declined to comment.”
Moreover, if the journalist indeed tried to contact him on other occasions, as he says that he did, this should have been mentioned in the report.
 
Headline misleading
Manyi says that the headline (Manyi survives the week) is misleading as his role as president was never threatened.
Based on the newspaper’s argumentation above, it says that the headline is (therefore) fair.
The issue here is simple. Art. 5.1 of the Press Code states that headlines should give a fair reflection of the contents of the report in question.
The story says that Manyi was “currently engaged in a bruising battle” to maintain his position as president of the BMF as senior members of the body wanted to oust him. Manyi may refute that this is true, but that is what the story says – which is indeed reflected in the headline.
I have also previously argued that it was reasonable for the newspaper to suggest that Manyi’s position as president was threatened.
The second story:
Task team ‘on Manyi’
The headline says: BMF task team on Manyi comes under fire. The story adds that the BMF has “set up a task team to investigate allegations” directed at Manyi. It also states that one of the mandates of the task team is to “investigate whether the complaints in the letter from Concerned Members have substance”.
Manyi complains that there is no task team “on him”.
Based on the argumentation regarding the same issue in the first part of the complaint above, it was reasonable for the newspaper to use the phrase “task team on Manyi”.
Finding
The first story:
Task team to investigate Manyi
The newspaper was justified in its reportage. This part of the complaint is dismissed.
BMF media statement
This part of the complaint has been dealt with as the newspaper already published a correction and an apology.
Special board meeting to reverse the AGM’s decision to have Manyi investigated
The newspaper was justified in its reportage. This part of the complaint is dismissed.
Advised against ‘the move’
The newspaper was justified in its reportage. This part of the complaint is dismissed.

 

Declined to comment
The newspaper failed to supply our office with any shred of evidence that it had tried to contact Manyi. The benefit of the doubt therefore goes to Manyi. Its attempt to do so at an inopportune time was also insufficient. This is in breach of Art. 1.5 of the Press Code that states: “A publication should usually seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication…”
The statement that Manyi declined to comment at the dinner was unfair to him. This is in breach of Art. 1.1: “The press shall be obliged to report news…fairly.”
Headline misleading
The headline accurately reflects the content of the story. This part of the complaint is dismissed.
The second story:
 
 
Task team ‘on Manyi’
The newspaper was justified in its reportage. This part of the complaint is dismissed.
Sanction
City Press is:
  • reprimanded for failing to try to contact Manyi at an opportune time; and
  • directed to apologise to Manyi for the unfair statement that he declined to comment at the dinner.
The newspaper is asked to publish a summary of this finding and to furnish our office with the text prior to publication.

Please add the following sentence at the end of the text: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2010) for the full finding.”

 

 
Appeal
Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, anyone of the parties 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 reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman

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