Lumko Mtimde vs. Business Day

Ruling by the Press Ombudsman

2 April 2015

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Lumko Mtimde and those of Sharon Chetty, deputy editor of the Business Day newspaper (BD).

Complaint

Mtimde is complaining about two apologies published in the newspaper, both headlined Getting it right.

He complains that these apologies were not published prominently enough and were disproportionate to the offensive texts (as explained below).

The texts

The story which resulted in the apologies, headlined SABC board nomination turned down and published on 25 March 2015, said that Mtimde had not furnished proof of his educational qualifications to Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications, which resulted in the rejection of his nomination. This was published at the bottom of page 3, together with a picture of him. In its Third Umpire column, on page 10, the newspaper wrote that Mtimde had applied for appointment to the SABC board, but had failed to furnish proof of his qualifications.

BD carried an apology at the top of page 3 (on March 27 and March 30 respectively), conceding that the statement that Mtimde had applied for the position was not correct, as he had been nominated for it. He also did not fail or refuse to submit his qualifications to Parliament as he had not been required to do so – this was the responsibility of the person responsible for his nomination. The publication wrote that it regretted these errors, and added an apology in the second text.

For the record, this is what BD wrote:

March 27 – 78 words

March 30 – 132 words

 

CORRECTION In the article titled SABC board nominee turned down, in Wednesday’s edition, we said Lumko Mtimde had not furnished proof of his qualifications to Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications. In yesterday’s edition, our Third Umpire described Mr Mtimde as an applicant for appointment to the SABC board. Both statements are incorrect as Mr Mtimde was nominated for the board position and his nominator was meant to have sent in proof of his qualifications. We regret the errors.

 

 

CORRECTION In the article titled “SABC Board nominee turned down” (Business Day March 25 2015), we said Lumko Mtimde had not furnished proof of his qualifications to Parliament's portfolio committee on communications. The committee was finalising its shortlist of nominees for appointment to the SABC board. In the Thursday March 26 2015 edition, our Third Umpire described Mr Mtimde as an applicant for appointment to the SABC board. Both statements are incorrect. Since Mr Mtimde was nominated for the board position, it was the responsibility of his nominator to submit the documents in time to support his nomination. A statement issued by Parliament on March 25 2015 said proof of Mr Mtimde’s qualifications was only submitted after the short-listing deadline had expired. Business Day regrets the errors and apologises to Mr

Mtimde.

For those interested in statistics, the original story had 419 words, which means that the second apology was approximately one third of the story in dispute. (See my remark on this issue below.)

Analysis

Section 2.6 of the Press Code says: “A publication shall make amends for publishing information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by printing, promptly and with appropriate prominence, a retraction, correction or explanation.” (My emphasis.)

I note Mtimde stated that BD needed to be fined and made to apologise. He argued that the apology had to be prominent, equal to and of the same size as the article, and that the headline had to communicate its apology to him and his family.

I take the following into account:

·         Sect. 2.6 does not require that an apology should have exactly the same prominence as the report in question – it merely states it should be “appropriately” prominent;

·         Section 8.2 of the Complaints Procedures states: “Monetary fines will not be imposed as a penalty for the content of the press.” I do not have the jurisdiction to impose monetary fines for breaches of the Press Code;

·         While the number of words in an apology is not unimportant, the quality of the text – in relation to the seriousness of the breach of the Press Code – is even more telling;

·         I have little doubt that the errors have caused Mtimde some serious, unnecessary harm;

·         The apologies were printed promptly (respectively two and five days after the story), as required by the Press Code;

·         The apologies were published on the top right of page 3 – more prominently than the story and the Third Umpire;

·         BD apologized twice; and

·         The apologies – especially the second – went to the heart of the matter.

Given all of the above, I believe that the apologies were sufficient in that they were published appropriately prominently, and in that the texts addressed the crux of the 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

 

 

 

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