Leon Rolls vs City Press/News 24

Complainant: Leon Rolls

Lodged by: Leon Rolls

Article:  ANC’s KZN Conference results challenged

Author of article:  Sizwe sama Yende and two other journalists

Date: 16 February 2016

Respondent:  Dumisane Lubisi, editor of the City Press

Complaint

Rolls is complaining about an article in City Press of 15 November 2015, headlined ANC’s KZN Conference results challenged.

He complains the story incorrectly said that his company:

·         had been involved in manipulating the outcomes of an ANC conference and had been appointed by the ANC to oversee the voting process;

·         had financially benefitted from the conference; and

·         had been paid out in 2015.

 

Rolls adds the story omitted that he also had a contract with the Office of the Premier, and asks the newspaper to reveal its source for the information on the contract with the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta).

He argues that this reportage has made it difficult for him to do business, as both his and his business’s reputation have been tarnished.

The text

The story, written by Sizwe sama Yende and two other journalists, said, “Disgruntled ANC branch members are challenging the credibility of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) conference’s outcome because they allege conference rules were violated and a company that oversaw the voting benefitted financially from newly-elected treasurer Nomusa Dube-Ncube’s department. According to documents City Press has seen, Sigma IT signed an 11-month contract to install a performance management system in 10 municipalities with [Cogta KZN] last year. The contract has paid the company at least R2.8 million. Dube-Ncube is the department’s MEC.”

Further arguments

Rolls complains the story incorrectly said that his company had been involved in manipulating the outcomes of an ANC conference – he says he was voluntarily assisting with the logistics of the conference (the printing of accreditation documentation) in his capacity as an ANC member, adding that he was not appointed by the ANC to oversee the voting and that he has not financially benefitted in any way.

He adds that:

·         his company was not paid out in 2015 (so as to influence the results of the conference), as the payment was done the year before;

·         the contract he signed with Cogta in 2014 had nothing to do with the conference – at the time that contract was awarded, there was no mention of the possibility of such a conference; and

·         he had a contract with the Office of the Premier as well – a fact the story omitted in the journalist’s search to push his own agenda (in order to further the interests of the “so-called” branches which made the allegation).

He asks that the newspaper:

·         publishes an apology to him for the:

 

o   damages caused, in order to clear his and his company’s name; and

 

o   incorrect and misleading allegation that he has benefitted from the MEC;

·         mentions that he has a contract not only with Cogta, but also with the Office of the Premier, which was awarded fairly as well, and that it was not used to fund or to manipulate the conference. “This is important as the article has only linked me to one fraction and this once again was deliberately left out by the reporter so as to justify his own ambitions and aspirations”; and

·         reveals its source regarding the Cogta contract as the contents are privileged (it contains intellectual property and his formula for doing business). He says the information could have been obtained by using proper channels, adding that he also wants a copy of such a document as the amount mentioned in the story is not 100% correct.

Rolls asks for the above, insisting that the newspaper’s reportage has tarnished both his and his business’s reputation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lubisi says the story was clear – claims of the manipulation of results came from disgruntled ANC members who were angry at the outcomes of the voting process and who were challenging its results. The article also explained that the ANC branches had compiled a report, alleging that accreditation cards were distributed to bogus delegates to boost the winning faction at the conference.

The editor points out that the branches were particularly unhappy with the newly elected treasurer, Dube-Ncube, who was also the MEC for Cogta, as they believed this to be in conflict with the contract Rolls had with her department – they believed his company to be involved in the election process and its accreditation.

Lubisi says Sama Yende tried to contact Rolls from Friday, November 13, but none of his calls were answered. The reporter then resorted to sending SMS messages. The editor provided me with this communication:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Friday, the reporter asked Rolls by SMS for his comment regarding the allegation by ANC branches that his company had been used to manipulate the results.

The next day, Sama Yende repeated his request, adding: “Could you please come back to me or refer me to somebody else?”

Rolls responded, “This was a national programme anything to do with it contact National office luthuli house” (unedited).

Sama Yende replied, “Thanks. I thought I should contact you because those branch members are levelling allegations directly at your company by claiming it was used because … your company has a contract with a government department headed by one of the newly-elected ANC officials.”

Rolls’s response read, “Kindly refer all allegations and questions to National as this was their programme.”

 

From this, Lubisi concludes that Rolls had ample time to indicate to the newspaper that what it intended to write about his company was wrong – but instead he chose to refer the matter to the ANC national office.

The editor argues that the complaint has no basis, as:

·         the story conveyed the unhappy ANC members’ challenge of the results – the newspaper merely reported the allegation, and did not endorse it;

·         it is disingenuous for Rolls, who did not make use of the opportunity to state his side of the story, to lodge a complaint with this office about the same matter;

·         Rolls is correct that his contract with the department came about long before the ANC conference – but no one alleged otherwise;

·         the story did not allege that Rolls had received any financial benefit from participating in the ANC conference; and

·         the article was not false, and therefore could not have unnecessarily harmed Rolls or his company.

 

In his reply to the above, Rolls mainly repeats his arguments, as cited above.

He adds that the newspaper’s response mentions accreditation cards which were distributed to delegates – but the story did not mention this. He argues that he referred the reporter to the National Executive Committee (NEC) to get a response on this point, as the accreditation process was run by the NEC and not by the MEC.

“Had the reporter directed his questions to Luthuli House, these questions would have been answered… [T]he Provincial Secretary called the reporter … about these issues before the article was published,” he states. Rolls says that he could not comment on the ANC conference because he was working there as a volunteer – which is why he referred Sama Yende to the relevant ANC structures. “This was clearly not done as the article published does not have any response from Luthuli House.”

Rolls also argues that while the first paragraph of the article talked about complaints from disgruntled ANC members, the second paragraph stated that City Press had a copy of the contract. “This is endorsing the first paragraph. The narrative of the second paragraph … directly linked [him]to the reference of ‘the company’ referred to in the narrative of the first paragraph of the article.”

My considerations

Involved in manipulating the ANC conference; appointed to oversee voting

The story did not state as fact that Rolls had been involved in manipulating the outcomes of the ANC conference in question – it was at pains to portray this as an allegation, made by “disgruntled” ANC branches. These people also believed, rightly or wrongly, that Rolls’s company had been involved in the election process and its accreditation.

The story said that City Press saw the report by ANC branch members that was to be handed over to ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe – and I have no reason to disbelieve this.

Moreover, these branches had the right to feel the way they did (without, of course, implying that they were correct – it is not my mandate to determine the merits of such an opinion), and likewise City Press was entitled and justified to publish that opinion.

Also, the story did not say that Rolls’s contract with the department coincided with the ANC conference and did not imply that the contract he had signed with Cogta in 2014 had anything to do with the conference.

Benefitting financially

The story did not say that Rolls benefitted financially from the conference. It did, though, point out that ANC members were uneasy about the election of Dube-Ncube, as her department had had a contract with Rolls’s company.

The editor’s argument (that the ANC members’ belief that this could have represented a conflict of interest – “[h]aving been a beneficiary of a contract from Mrs Dube’s department, whether current or past, he or his company’s loyalty would be on [her]side…”) was reasonable.

Yet again, I am not saying that this argument was valid – it is not my task to pronounce a verdict in this regard.

Paid out in 2015

The story did not say that the money from the contract was paid in 2015. The sentence reflecting this matter read, “The contract has paid the company at least R2.8 million” – nothing more, and nothing less.

Omitting to state contract with Office of the Premier

The fact that the story did not refer to Roll’s contract with the Office of the Premier is neither here nor there – surely, the article did not purport to portray the whole range of Rolls’s contracts. He has not convinced me that it was necessary for Sama Yende to include this aspect in the story.

Revealing its source

Lubisi does not respond to Rolls’s request that the newspaper identifies its source. It was not necessary for him to do so, as a publication has an obligation to protect its confidential sources (Section 11.1 of the Press Code) – and I am certainly not going to ask the editor to fulfill Rolls’s request in this regard.

Reputation tarnished

Given all of the above, I do not believe that the story has unnecessarily tarnished Rolls’s reputation or that of his company.

General comment

Rolls’s reason for referring Sama Yende’s request for comment to Luthuli House is unconvincing – the allegation made was inter alia against him and his company, and he had all the justification in the world to defend himself on this matter.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

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