Joe Lesejane vs Sunday Sun

Complainant: Joe Lesejane

Lodged by: Joe Lesejane

Article: Mafikizolo Marriage ‘Mess’! – Beautiful Melo rumoured to be cause of trouble…

Author of article: Bongani Mdakane

Date: 24 November 2015

Respondent: Johan Vos, deputy editor of the Sunday Sun

Complaint

Lesejane is complaining about a front-page article in Sunday Sun of 1 November 2015, headlined Mafikizolo Marriage ‘Mess! – Beautiful Melo rumoured to be cause of trouble… The story carried over to page 2 (headlined, Mixing business with pleasure!).

He complains that the newspaper has falsely and without evidence and / or verification implied or stated that his daughter, Melo, had been romantically involved with Mr Theo Kgosinkwe (who had been married at the time); and that the reporter had tried to contact his daughter.

Lesejane concludes that the family have been “badly aggrieved” by the “intentional defamation” of his daughter’s character.

The text

The story, written by Bongani Mdakane, stated that Kgosinkwe had been said to be at odds with his wife, Rose – and that he had been spending time with “sexy Melo”.

The journalist quoted a source as saying, “Rose accused Theo of spending too much time with Melo. The suspects those two are mixing business with pleasure!” Another source reportedly said that the couple no longer talked about their relationship – “they just argue about Melo”.

Further arguments

Lesejane explains that Melo was assigned to a music company owned by Kgosinkwe and that the two of them spent much time together due to the nature of her work – but states that they have had nothing more than an employer-employee relationship.

Vos says the newspaper made use of three sources and, as they believed their allegations were reasonably true, the newspaper decided to publish.

He admits that the journalist did not phone Melo (as reported in the story), and states that her name was erroneously inserted “due to internal processes going haywire”.

The deputy editor offers Melo a right of reply in a follow-up article, which would include an apology for the factual inaccuracy, as stated above. He adds that the three sources are willing to corroborate the information with this office, on condition that their names are not mentioned.

Lesejane rejects this offer and demands that the newspaper present him with facts regarding the allegation against his daughter.

In a follow-up correspondence with this office, Vos says the angle of the story is that Kgosinkwe allegedly had marital problems. “We attributed all [the]claims to our three sources and never stated it as fact in the article.”

He also concedes that the headline on page 2 should have been put in quotation marks as it referred to a quote from one of the sources. He offers to apologise for this mistake as well.

My considerations

The allegation that Kgosinkwe and his wife were going through a hard time is not the issue here – the allegation about the “affair” between him and Melo is, as was alleged by the Daily Sun’s sources and reported by the journalist.

I asked Vos about the credibility and the independence of the sources, stating: “The question if the newspaper was justified to publish the allegation about Melo stands and falls with this issue… In other words: I need to understand why the newspaper believed that the allegation was reasonably true.”

He provided me with the names and contact numbers of the sources (on condition of anonymity), for which I commend him.

My questions to the sources were simple:

·         Do they have any evidence as to a possible affair between Kgosinkwe and Melo – and if so, what did they see; or

·         Did they merely heard it from another source?

My office spoke to two of these sources, both of whom said that they heard it from other people.

It does not matter who these “other people” were – the repetition of what somebody has told you is called hear-say.

Despite several attempts, my office could not reach the third source.

I therefore do not have ground to believe that the newspaper had any kind of solid evidence for it to have believed that the allegation was reasonably true, and conclude that it was not justified to publish such a harmful accusation. This unfair reportage could only have caused Melo and her family some huge, unnecessary harm, unnecessarily damaging her dignity and reputation.

This was exaggerated, of course, by the fact that the story was carried on page 1.

Please note I am not saying that the two did not have an affair. That is not for me to decide. My only interest in this matter is whether the newspaper was justified in publishing the allegation in question – which it was not.

I appreciate the newspaper’s willingness to apologise for falsely stating that the journalist contacted Melo, and that the second headline should have been used in inverted commas.

However, the issue is also why the journalist had not contacted her for comment in the first place (as required by Section 2.5 of the Press Code). Surely, she was a subject “of critical reportage”?

Finding

Sunday Sun did not have enough evidence or justification to publish the allegation in question. That is in breach of Section 2.1 of the Press Code that says, “The press shall take care to report news…fairly.”

The headline on page 2 did not reflect the essence of the story as it turned the (already improperly reported) accusation into fact. This is in breach of the following sections of the Code:

·         2.1: “The press shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”;

·         2.3: “Only what may reasonably be true, having regard to the sources of the news, may be presented as fact…”; and

·         10.1: “Headlines…shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report…in question.”

The story falsely stated that the journalist tried to contact Melo. This is in breach of Section 2.1 of the Press Code.

The journalist failed to try to contact Melo. This is in breach of Section 2.5 of the Code which states, “A publication shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…”

The reportage as a whole was in breach of Section 4.7 of the Code: “The press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation…”

Seriousness of breaches

Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of our Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1), serious breaches (Tier 2) and serious misconduct (Tier 3).

The breaches of the Press Code as indicated above are all Tier 2 offences.

Sanction

Sunday Sun is directed to apologise to Lesejane and his family for unfairly:

·         publishing the allegation that there was a romantic relationship between Melo and Kgosinkwe; and

·         stating it as fact in its headline on page 2 that the two were mixing business with pleasure.

It should also apologise for:

·         inaccurately stating as fact that the journalist tried to contact Melo;

·         not attempting to contact her for comment prior to publication;

·         causing Melo and her family some huge, unnecessary harm; and

·         not exercising care and consideration regarding her dignity and reputation.

The newspaper is directed to publish:

·         on top of page 1, the words: “Apology to Melo”, or something to that effect, with a reference to the apology on page 2;

·         the apology, as outlined above, on page 2. This text should be approved by me and should end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”.

The headline on page 2 should reflect the content of the text. A heading such as Matter of Fact, or something similar, is not acceptable.

If the story was published on its website, the full apology should appear there as well.

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 Appeals 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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