Joyce Molamu vs Sunday World

Complainant: Joyce Molamu

Lodged by: Joyce Molamu

Article: R40 000 – ‘Preggy’ lover threatens Mbalula (October 30); and A serial blackmailer – Fikile’s hit-and-run struck before (November 6).

Author of article: Ngwako Malatji and Norman Masungwini

Date: 16 December 2011

Respondent: Sunday World

Complaint
Ms Joyce Molamu complains about two stories in Sunday World, published on 30 October 2011 and 6 November 2011 respectively, and headlined:
  • R40 000 – ‘Preggy’ lover threatens Mbalula (October 30); and
  • A serial blackmailer – Fikile’s hit-and-run struck before (November 6).
Molamu complains that the:
  • October 30 story falsely states that her child was five months old;
  • October 30 and November 6 stories contain three statements without any proof or evidence; and
  • November 6 story falsely states that she has sent some SMS messages to North-West ANC provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge.
Analysis
The October 30 story, written by Ngwako Malatji and Norman Masungwini, says that Molamu allegedly fell pregnant “after a steamy sexual encounter” with Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula at her home.
The other story, written by Malatji, says that Molamu allegedly also seduced North-West ANC provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge and concocted a rape story to blackmail him into submitting to her.
I shall now look at the merits of the complaint:
Five month-old child
Molamu complains that the reference to her child as being five months old is inaccurate. She says that her son was born early in April this year.
This means that, at the time of publication, the child was 6 months old.
Sunday World says the information came from Mbalula’s spokesperson and adds that Molamu herself told Zenoyise Madikwa (a journalist at Sowetan) her child was 5 months old. The newspaper says: “While we are willing to accept the age of her child as stated in the complaint, we submit that it was reasonable for us to state in the stories that the child was five months old as we had received that information from two people, including Ms Molamu.”
However, Molamu denies that any journalist has ever asked her about her child’s age.
These are my observations and considerations:
  • I accept Molamu’s testimony regarding the age of her child;
  • If it is true that Molamu told Madikwa that her child was 5 months old, I find it strange that she made a mistake regarding her own baby’s age;
  • I accept that the newspaper got its information from Mbalula’s spokesperson – who can reasonably be seen as a credible and reliable witness; and
  • The more central an issue is to a story, the more necessary it becomes to verify such information. In this case, the 6-month-old child who was said to be 5 months old is not material to the story.
Based on the last two bullets, I do not see the need for verification of this information. However, the Press Code states that incorrect information should be corrected.
Statements without proof, evidence
Molamu says that the following statements/allegations were published without any proof or evidence, namely that:
  • Mbalula said that he was told that she broke windows in former Presidential spokesperson Zizi Kodwa’s house in Midrand when he refused to give her money (October 30);
  • after Kodwa confirmed that he had also dated her, he reportedly added: “What she is doing to Fikile is nothing. She did worse things to me. I don’t even want to talk about them” (October 30); and
  • she allegedly also seduced Mataboge and concocted a rape story to blackmail him into submitting to her (November 6);
Molamu asks what proof the newspaper has to back up this reportage. She also wants to know if the newspaper has a case number regarding the damage of property, or any kind of proof that she has asked Kodwa for money.
Regarding the first two bullets, the Sunday World says that those quotes were properly attributed. The newspaper argues that it did its duty to ask Molamu for comment – which she refused to do. It also says: “To demand a case number or receipts for repairs is disingenuous when she refused to set the record straight when she had the opportunity to do so.”
The newspaper is correct – those two sentences are properly attributed. The sources had the right to say what they reportedly said (whether it was true or not) and the newspaper was justified in reporting that. It is indeed a pity that Molamu did not use the opportunity to put forward her side of the story.
Also: I do not believe that these statements are defamatory of her because they probably do not significantly lower her public image.
That leaves me with the last bullet. The newspaper does not respond to this issue in particular, but does say in general that its reporting was fair and reasonable.
So let me take a closer look. The intro to the 6 November story says two things about Molamu, namely that she:
  •  “allegedly also seduced” Mataboge; and
  • “concocted a rape story to blackmail him into submitting to her”.
My first observation is that this information is not attributed to a source – in fact, no source is mentioned throughout the whole story.
Instead, the information in dispute appears to be based on some SMS messages, the content of which is published in the story.
It therefore becomes necessary to study these messages. (I shall later address the validity of these messages. For now, I am treating the messages as coming from Molamu and directed to Mataboge, as the story does.)
Firstly, then, about the alleged “seduction”: One internet definition of seduction is “the process of deliberately enticing a person to engage”. The word stems from Latin and literally means “to lead astray”. Clearly, this implies that the initiative comes from the person who seduces somebody else.
It is not evident from the SMS messages that Molamu took the initiative. In fact, rather the opposite is the case. One message states: “…you (Mataboge) lured me (Molamu) to Sun City pretending I’m going to present an award at the event.”
From this, it is more reasonable to say that Mataboge seduced Molamu, and not the other way around. In other words, the intro should rather have read that Molamu “was seduced”.
The use of the word “allegedly” to denote the seduction is therefore meaningless in this context.
I need to mention that the high court has recently ruled that related stories should not be read in isolation. I therefore need to take into account the October 30 story – which does say that Molamu apparently invited Mbalula to her house. This time, the initiative came from her – and within this context, the use of the word “seduction” is acceptable.
However, the first story refers to Mbalula, and the person in the 6 November story is Mataboge – which means, of course, that a “don’t-read-in-isolation-defense” cannot be applied in this case.
I therefore conclude that the statement in dispute is without any apparent journalistic basis.
Now, regarding the statement that Molamu “concocted a rape story to blackmail him into submitting to her”. The SMS messages namely accuse Mataboge for behaving like a rapist and for sexually abusing her, and states that she has decided to open a rape case against him. From this, the part that says that she “concocted a rape story” can indeed be based on the SMS messages (although the word “concocted” may be a trifle strong).
However, there is nothing in any of the SMSes, or indeed in the rest of the story, to support the allegation that she tried to “blackmail him into submitting to her”.
As this statement is not attributed to a source and not based on any of the SMS messages, and indeed not even implied in the story, and is also not mentioned in the October 30 story, the only conclusion I can come to is that the journalist plucked it out of thin air. If not, the onus was on him to inform the public where this information comes from – which he has failed to do.
I therefore conclude that this statement also has no apparent journalistic basis.
This reportage has probably caused unnecessary harm to Molamu’s dignity and reputation.
SMS messages
The story quotes some messages that the newspaper says Molamu has sent to Mataboge. In these messages the writer accuses somebody of behaving like the Facebook rapist, one message mentions sexual abuse and another one the possibility of the opening of a case of rape.
Molamu denies that she has ever exchanged such SMSes and complains that the story has dented her reputation. She asks: “Did Sunday World confirm that indeed the SMSes were sent from my number & verified it before printing?” She adds that Mataboge later denied that he had sent the journalist any messages. She also says that she is even willing to give me permission to retrieve all her communication to Mataboge from the service provider.
Sunday World replies that:
  • Mataboge passed the messages on to a friend, who later showed them to the newspaper;
  • its journalist is adamant that he did see the SMSes and that Mataboge confirmed that they came from Molamu;
  • it did not obtain technical proof of the origin of the messages as it would need a subpoena to do that; and
  • when it approached Molamu about the SMSes she did not want to talk about them and she also did not deny sending them.
This leaves me with a yes-no-situation.
I cannot come to a finding on this matter as I have no reasonable basis to do so.
Finding
Five month-old child
The information about the 6-month-old child who was said to be 5 months old is not material to the story and it came from a reliable source. This part of the complaint is dismissed.
However, the information was inaccurate and should therefore be corrected.
Statements without proof, evidence
The complaints about the following sentences (in the October 30 story) are both dismissed:
  • “I’m told she broke windows in his house in Midrand when he refused to give her money” (Mbalula); and
  • “What she is doing to Fikile is nothing. She did worse things to me. I don’t even want to talk about them” (Kodwa).
The statements that Molamu allegedly seduced Mataboge and that she concocted a rape story “to blackmail him into submitting to her” (in the November 6 story) are without any apparent journalistic basis and are in breach of the following parts of the Press Code:
  • Art. 1.1: “The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”;
  • Art. 1.2: “News shall be presented…in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization”;
  • Art. 5: “The press shall exercise exceptional care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation…”
SMS messages
There is no finding on this matter.
Sanction
Sunday World is strongly reprimanded for publishing the two statements (in the story of November 6) that are without any apparent journalistic basis, namely that Molamu:
  • allegedly seduced Mataboge; and
  • concocted a rape story “to blackmail him into submitting to her”.
The newspaper is directed to apologise to her for the apparent harm that these breaches of the Press Code have done to her dignity and reputation.
The newspaper is directed to publish the following text on page 6:
BEGINNING OF TEXT
The office of the Press Ombudsman has “strongly reprimanded” Sunday World for publishing two statements that have no apparent journalistic basis regarding Ms Joyce Molamu, and has directed us to apologise to her – which we hereby do.
The story, written by Ngwako Malatji and published on 6 November 2011, namely stated that Molamu has allegedly seduced ANC provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge, and that she has blackmailed him into submitting to her (by threatening to open a rape case against him).
This article came after the news broke that Molamu has claimed that Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula made her pregnant.
Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said that these breaches of the Press Code have probably unnecessarily caused harm to Molamu’s dignity and reputation.
Also: The correct age of her child was 6 months at the time of publication, and not 5 months as we were led to believe.
Retief dismissed her complaint about another story that we carried on October 30.
Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2011) for the full finding.
END OF TEXT
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 contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman

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