National Commissioner’s Office, SA Police Service vs Sunday Tribune

Complainant: National Commissioner’s Office, SA Police Service

Lodged by: Solomon Makgale

Article: Phiyega’s 2am freeze on tenders

Author of article:  Jeff Wicks

Date: 19 May 2014

Respondent: Sunday Tribune

Complaint

Makgale is complaining about a story published in the Sunday Tribune of 16 March 2014, headlined Phiyega’s 2am freeze on tenders.

He complains that the journalist ignored his reply to questions posed by the reporter (that the matter had been resolved), which led to a factually incorrect story (specifically the statement that the withdrawal of contracts left the police “without a vital maintenance and support contract for more than 100 000 computers countrywide”).

The story

The introduction to the story, written by Jeff Wicks, said: “National police commissioner General Riah Phiyega brought to police forensic investigation and IT support capability to its knees by withdrawing three contracts worth billions hours before they were to be awarded.” Wicks also reported that Phiyega’s decision had ruined development directed by Parliament, and had left the police without a vital maintenance and support contract for more than 100 000 computers countrywide.

Analysis

Makgale says Wicks sent him a list of six questions, to which he replied that the matter had been resolved (which, according to him, meant that there was “no story”). He complains that the journalist ignored this response, which led to the suggestion that the matter was ongoing.

He adds that he told Wicks telephonically that there was a difference between “cancellation” and “withdrawal”. “I informed him what the National Commissioner did was to temporary (sic) withdraw the submission and that the matter had been resolved. So, simply put, no tender had been cancelled and…no forensic investigation and IT support capability were brought to its knees.”

Wicks contests Makgale’s assertion that there was no story – he argues that documents in his possession indicated the contrary. He adds that Makgale offered three different explanations for the withdrawal of the contracts over the course of a day. “It was the decision to rely on solid evidence in the form of documentation and interviews rather than General Phiyega’s word, which changed materially three times in a matter of hours.”

Makgale suggests in reply that he did not change his explanations, but merely amended them when he received additional information.

My considerations

I note that Makgale indicated to Wicks that he needed to amend his response (within a few minutes) – and that the journalist dutifully and adequately reported this amended response. The reporter certainly did not ignore Makgale’s response.

Secondly, it is true that there is a difference between cancellation and withdrawal. However, the story used the latter word – which Makgale himself had used in his correspondence with Wicks.

Makgale says he told Wicks that the matter had been resolved (and that there was therefore no story). This is not reflected in the correspondence at my disposal.

However, even if he did tell him so telephonically, Wicks would have required details about this development – without which such a blank statement would have no basis and would be meaningless to report.

For the same reason Wicks was justified to state that the withdrawal of contracts left the police “without a vital maintenance and support contract for more than 100 000 computers countrywide”.

I also take into account that the matter was in the public interest as billions of rands were involved.

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 Adjudication Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds for appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman

 

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