Mike Masina vs Nkangala Informer

Complainant: Mike Masina

Lodged by: Mike Masina

Article: The big race is on!!

Date: 1 November 2010

Respondent: Nkangala Informer

Complaint
Mr Mike Masina, chief whip of the Steve Tshwete Municipality in Middleburg, complains about a story in Nkangala Informer, dated August 2010 and headlined The big race is on!!.
Masina complains that the story inaccurately states that he:
  • attended and addressed rallies organized by a coalition that wants to oust the mayor; and
  • was lobbying for the position of mayor.
Analysis
The story is about a race for the mayoral candidature in next year’s municipal elections in Middelburg. The story says that there were groups of people (called a “coalition”) who wanted to oust the mayor, cllr Manthlakeng Mahlangu. Amongst these people, the story continues, is Masina. The latter reportedly was “lobbying on the ground” and had a good relationship with the coalition. The story also says that Masina was “…always seen taking the centre stage, addressing rallies and funerals”.
Masina denies these allegations. He says that he never went to any rally outside the structures of the ANC, SAPC, Cosatu and related structures. He adds that, “…for a while now, there has never been any such rally except for the Cosatu May Day rally” – which he says he did not address.
Masina adds that he suspects that the newspaper was deliberately fabricating the story “…in order to create unnecessary controversy around my name.” He says that he also suspects that the newspaper probably wanted to boost its own image against other well-established local newspapers like the Middelburg Observer.
The newspaper says it based the story on the following substances:
  • Masina attended a meeting that took place at Mpanama School that involved local business people. These people, the newspaper argues, formed part of the anti-mayor coalition. It says: “After that meeting he went on radio and spooked.”
  • On April 13 Masina attended a rally at O.R. Thambo Park. The newspaper says that he was standing on the far left of the park on a section called Tembisa.
  • Masina attended a second rally at the Themba Sinamela Stadium. It adds: “He used the back entrance.”
From this, the newspaper says, its journalist concluded that Masina formed part of the campaign, and that he was having ambitions of becoming the next executive mayor.
The Nkagala Informer adds that it is a regional newspaper and that, if it wanted to create a controversy, “…we would have gone for a bigger name…” ( the newspaper says Masina is “just” a chief whip of one local municipality). It also argues that, as a regional newspaper, it is not in competition with local newspapers such as the Middelburg Observer.
We shall now address each of the above-mentioned points that the newspaper raised:
The meeting at Mpanama School
Masina says this meeting was held either in July or August 2010. Several stakeholders attended the meeting, including a delegation by the SA Defence Force and business people. He says drug and substance abuse, threats of xenophobia and the legal status of some foreign nationals were on the agenda.
He continues: “The meeting culminated into several follow up interactions with even more stakeholders.” He says this includes the SAPS and delegates from the Department of Home Affairs.
In his reply to the newspaper’s response to his complaint Masina does neither deny nor admit that he attended the meeting in question. However, he:
  • says that the business people only later formed part of the anti-mayor coalition; and
  • challenges the newspaper to unpack the agenda of this meeting.
To the newspaper’s allegation that after this meeting he “went on radio and spooked” Masina says that the only matter he commented on over the radio had to do with looming conflict between foreign nationals and local business people. He adds that these business people only later formed part of the anti-mayor coalition.
On the balance of probabilities, the Mpanama School meeting hardly looks like the kind of event where an anti-mayor campaign was likely to be held; neither is it reasonable to assume that Masina “spooking” on radio should be interpreted within the context of this campaign (as the newspaper alleges).
The April 13 rally
The story says: “With him (Masina) always seen taking the centre stage, addressing rallies and funerals”.
When given a chance to support its claims, the newspaper states that Masina was standing on the “far left of the park”.
Masina challenges the newspaper to demonstrate without doubt that he was at the rally and that he took centre stage. He adds that it would be interesting to depict a picture of someone taking centre stage addressing a rally while standing on the far left of the venue.
Clearly, this part of the newspaper’s argument does not support its claim of Masina as “always” seen taking “centre stage” and “addressing” rallies. The concepts “far left” and “centre stage” as well as “far left” and “addressing” are difficult to reconcile (as Masina has quite correctly pointed out).
Secondly, even if he did attend the rally it would not prove that he was part of the campaign against the mayor or that he had ambitions of becoming the next mayor. For argument’s sake, he may even have attended the meeting as a “spy” for the mayor.
The newspaper’s “conclusion” from Masina’s alleged attendance of the meetings in question – namely that he formed part of the campaign and that he was having ambitions of becoming the next mayor – is therefore merely based on supposition and assumption.
Worse still, this is being dished up as the truth – the newspaper does not even use the word “alleged” in this regard.
The second rally
The newspaper says that Masina used the back entrance to the stadium where the rally was being held.
Masina again challenges the newspaper to demonstrate without doubt that he was at this rally and that he took centre stage. He adds: “It would again be interesting to paint a picture of someone taking a centre stage addressing a rally from (a) back entrance.”
Again, his “attendance” would prove little or nothing.
It must be noted that the newspaper did not state that Masina addressed the meeting from the back, only that he entered the stadium from the back. The newspaper obviously makes this statement to give support to its claim that Masina attended the meeting. However, it again fails to support its claim of taking “centre stage” and “addressing” rallies.
My overall conclusion is that the newspaper failed to;
  • support its claim that Masina was “always” seen taking “centre stage” and “addressing” rallies;
  • substantiate its claim that Masina had ambitions to become the next mayor. (Even though he may have such ambitions, the newspaper still did not substantiate this allegation.)
The story is, with regards to Masina, largely based on suppositions and assumptions but still it is presented as the truth. This probably caused him unnecessary harm.
In also must be noted that, if the newspaper tried to verify the allegations regarding Masina or ask him for comment, it certainly made no attempt to report it – as it should have.
Finding
Masina’s complaint is upheld in its entirety.
The allegation that Masina was “always” seen as taking “centre stage” and “addressing rallies” is unfounded and in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Press Code that says: “The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.”
The allegation that Masina had ambitions to become the next mayor was not substantiated as it was merely a conclusion based on assumptions. This is in breach of Art. 1.3 of the Press Code: “…Where a report is not based on facts or is founded on opinions, allegation, rumour or supposition, this shall be mentioned in such report.”
The newspaper did not verify its allegations regarding Masina. This is in breach of Art. 1.4 of the Press Code: “Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be mentioned in such report.”
The newspaper did not ask Masina for comment. This is in breach of Art. 1.5 of the Press Code: “A publication should usually seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication…”
Sanction
The newspaper is directed to prominently publish an apology to Masina on the same page as the article in dispute. The apology should form part of a summary of this finding (not the whole ruling). Our office should be furnished with this text prior to publication.
Please add the following sentence at the end of the text: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2010) for the full finding.”

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 reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman

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