Molemole Municipality vs Sowetan

Complainant: Molemole Municipality

Lodged by: David Nkoane, Municipal manager

Date: 27 September 2012

Respondent: Sowetan

Complaint

Mr David Nkoana complains about a story on page 6 in the Sowetan on 5 April 2012, headlined Municipality ordered to pay officials.

He complains that the:

·         statements claiming that two municipal officials were suspended and that the municipality was then ordered to re-instate them were incorrect; and

·         story falsely portrayed him as a big-headed municipal official who was a law unto himself.

Nkoana also mentions stories that were published on 12 November 2010 and 15 February 2012, which I cannot entertain because they were published too long ago. Normally, we take complaints within 14 days of publication.

Analysis

The story, written by Frank Maponya, is about two municipal officials who reportedly were suspended and then ordered to be re-instated by the Commission for Conciliation and Arbitration.

Suspended, re-instated

Maponya wrote in the introductory paragraph: “The Molemole municipality in Limpopo has been ordered to re-instate two senior officials who were ‘unfairly’ dismissed from the institution.” This reportedly came after the officials were suspended.

Nkoana complains that this statement is not true – they were not suspended, neither was the municipality ordered to re-instate them. He adds that he told the journalist this, and yet he went ahead and published untrue statements.

Sowetan’s editor says that he looked at the CCMA decision which Nkoana gave the newspaper, but this document “seemed to be a vindication of the story”.

Let’s now take a look at the CCMA’s decision – what it said and what it did not say.

Essentially, the CCMA found that the dismissal of the officials was unfair and ordered the municipality to pay them compensation equivalent to 12 months’ salary.

However, no order of re-instatement was made. The story is therefore not correct.

At the hearing, Nkoana explained the difference between suspension and being put on special leave – unlike the latter, there has to be formal charges regarding the former. Sowetan was therefore again at fault for using the word “suspended”.

The newspaper then conceded that it had made these mistakes.

Big-headed, law unto himself

The relevant part of the story read as follows: “The council later instructed that the two return to work after a resolution. But David Nkoana, the new municipal manager who was appointed in January last year, decided to put two officials be given special leave, reportedly without a council resolution. Nkoana further filled their position without a council resolution.”

Nkoana says that that the two officials were not suspended during February 2012 or at any time, that they were not accused of paying R2 million to a company and that their positions were filled by means of a council resolution.

At the hearing, Nkoana testified that:

·         the amount of R2 million should have been approximately R4.4 million; and

·         he did not act unilaterally, without council resolutions.

Sowetan asked me to give it seven days to properly investigate this (last) matter. This period has now expired, and the newspaper did not come forward with any defence in this regard. In the meantime, Nkoana forwarded me – credible – minutes to prove his point. I also have no reason to disbelieve his testimony at the hearing.

I note with concern that the statements (twice) that Nkoana acted without a council resolution were portrayed as fact, and not attributed to any source. This was particularly damaging to him and it must have caused him some serious, unnecessary harm.

At the hearing, Sowetan could not explain what it based its reporting on regarding this issue.

It is beyond me how a newspaper can make such serious allegations, with potentially so much harm to somebody’s good name and reputation, and then is not able to substantiate its reporting when asked to do so.

I am ignoring the issue of R2 million, as it was not included in the initial complaint. (The same goes for the alleged walkout by DA councillors.)

Finding

Suspended, re-instated

The story inaccurately stated that the CCMA had ordered the municipality to re-instate the suspended officials. This is in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.”

Big-headed, law unto himself

The story twice inaccurately and unfairly stated Nkoana had acted on his own, without any council resolutions. This is in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.”

Sanction

Sowetan is:

·         directed to apologise to Nkoane for twice inaccurately and unfairly stating as fact that he has acted unilaterally, without a council resolution;

·         reprimanded for inaccurately reporting that the CCMA ordered the municipality to re-instate the suspended officials;

·         directed to publish the text (below) on page 6; and

·         directed to use the words “apology” or “apologises” and “Nkoana” in the headline.

Beginning of text

Sowetan apologises to the municipal manager of Molemole Municipality, Mr David Nkoana, for twice inaccurately and unfairly stating as fact that he has acted unilaterally, without a council resolution.

This comes after he has lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman about a story Sowetan on 5 April 2012, headlined Municipality ordered to pay officials.

The story, written by Frank Maponya, was about two municipal officials who reportedly were suspended and then ordered to be re-instated by the Commission for Conciliation and Arbitration.

Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said: “I note with concern that the statements (twice) that Nkoana acted without a council resolution were portrayed as fact, and not attributed to any source. This was particularly damaging to him and it must have caused him some serious, unnecessary harm.”

He commented: “It is beyond me how a newspaper can make such serious allegations, with potentially so much harm to somebody’s good name and reputation, and then is not able to substantiate its reporting when asked to do so.”

He therefore upheld Nkoana’s complaint that the story falsely portrayed him as a big-headed municipal official who was a law unto himself and noted that we could not explain what we based our reporting on.

Retief also reprimanded us for incorrectly stating that some officials were suspended and that the CCMA ordered the municipality to re-instate these officials.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2012) 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, either party 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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