Complainant: Koikanyang Inc
Lodged by: Odwa Kupiso
Article: Zuma’s ex-lawyer sues for R600m commission – Charge: Breach of contract at the centre of legal proceedings
Date: 11 July 2015
Respondent: Steven Motale, editor of The Citizen
Koikanyang Inc. and Mr Koikanyang are complaining about a lead on page 3 in The Citizen of 19 May 2015, headlined Zuma’s ex-lawyer sues for R600m commission – Charge: Breach of contract at the centre of legal proceedings.
They complain that the use of the word “commission” in the headline was inaccurate and not reflective of the story, as the claim for R600-million was for breach of contract against the North West Housing Corporation (NWHC) and the MEC of Local Government and Human Settlements.
They add that:
· the reported was one-sided, biased and inaccurate as it reported on one affidavit only, and not also on the answering affidavit;
· the words “NCOP chairperson ‘bullied’ for deal to go to her ‘blue-eyed boy’” has tarnished Koikanyang’s dignity and reputation; and
· there was no legitimate public interest in this assertion.
I am satisfied that the newspaper has already set the record straight on two issues (published on 22 May 2015), and that the rest of the complaint does not relate to what was published. I am therefore ignoring those issues raised by Koikanyang.
The story, written by Vicky Somniso-Abraham, was about court proceedings in the North West High Court in Mafikeng. The case involved Mothuloe Attorneys, suing the North West Housing Corporation and the MEC of Local Government and Human Settlements for R600-million for breach of contract.
The Citizen admits that the headline was misleading.
I agree. The story was about litigation on an alleged breach of contract and not about commission. The reference to Zuma’s ex-lawyer having sued “for R600-million commission” could only have caused him and his firm huge, unnecessary harm.
One affidavit only
Koikanyang complains that the journalist reported on only one affidavit, but failed to report on his answering affidavit – despite the fact that the reporter had sight of this document (in which he challenged and denied some serious allegations in the founding affidavit).
Motale replies that, while the reporter has seen the answering affidavit, it had not been submitted to court at the time of publication.
That is a convincing argument – a newspaper is not allowed to publish material still to be submitted in an ongoing court case.
I do trust that, once that has happened, the newspaper will cover the contents of the answering affidavit.
‘Bullied’, ‘blue-eyed boy’
The story carried a blurb stating, “NCOP chairperson ‘bullied’ for deal to go to her ‘blue-eyed boy’.”
Koikanyang complains that this has tarnished his dignity and reputation.
Motale says these words were used in an affidavit that was before the court in this case.
While this may be true (I note that Koikanyang does not dispute this), it would have been better to indicate where the quote came from. Be that as it may, this omission was not sufficiently serious to qualify as a breach of the Press Code.
No legitimate public interest
The nature of the story was such that it was in the public interest – government institutions were involved, and therefore also taxpayers’ money.
The headline is in breach of Section 10.1 of the Press Code that says, “Headlines…shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report…in question.”
The rest of the complaint is dismissed.
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 misleading headline is a Tier 2 offence.
The Citizen is directed to apologise to Koikanyang, on page 3, for the misleading headline.
If the story appeared on its website, the apology should go there as well. The text should start with the apology, and end with the words, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.”
The headline should reflect the content of the text. A heading such as “Matter of Fact”, or something similar, is not acceptable.
The text should be approved by me.
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.