Nkosinathi ‘Black Coffee’ Maphumulo vs Sunday World

Complainant: Nkosinathi ‘Black Coffee’ Maphumulo

Lodged by: Tshepo Sibanyoni

Article: Love on the rocks – Black Coffee fights to save unhappy home and the story, which was published on page 2 and there headlined DJ’s wife feels betrayed, hurt – actress MbaliMlothswa ‘drained’ by side chick drama.

Author of article: Ngwako Malatji

Date: 28 August 2014

Respondent: Sunday World

Complaint

Black Coffee is complaining about a headline on the front page of Sunday World on 22 June 2014, Love on the rocks – Black Coffee fights to save unhappy home and the story, which was published on page 2 and there headlined DJ’s wife feels betrayed, hurt – actress Mbali Mlothswa ‘drained’ by side chick drama.

He complains that the story falsely and misleadingly stated that he was an adulterer (having had an extra-marital affair), that his marriage was on the rocks (dissolving faster than Cremora in a hot cup of coffee), and that he was an irresponsible husband.

He adds that the journalist used a single source and based the story on rumours which led to distortions and misrepresentations – which, in turn, harmed his reputation and infringed his rights to privacy and dignity.

The text

The story, written by Ngwako Malatji, said that Black Coffee and his wife had been going for marriage counseling in Soweto “in an effort to save their faltering union”. This came “after allegations surfaced suggesting that the DJ has been drinking on the lips of Egoli’s floozies behind his wife’s back”.

The newspaper’s response

The editor says that, if there are any factual inaccuracies in the story, Black Coffee should highlight them “instead of complaining about language usage”. He also denies that the newspaper’s intention was to defame the DJ (which “would not make business sense”).

He adds that the:

  • article’s objective was to report on the fact that Black Coffee and his wife were attending marriage counseling;
  • information was gleaned from three independent, reliable and knowledgeable sources;
  • front-page headline merely stated that their relationship was in trouble; and
  • reporter gave both Black Coffee and his wife a right of reply – which they turned down.

The editor concludes: “All attempts to compile a balanced article were made by the writer and the publication.”

My considerations

Firstly, I note that the story quoted three independent sources – one, a nurse at the hospital where Black Coffee allegedly underwent marriage counseling, another “independent” source, and a third, who was a “close associate” of the DJ’s wife.

I have no reason to disbelieve the newspaper on this issue, and I take into account that the press has an obligation to protect confidential sources of information (Section 11.1 of the Press Code).

Secondly, Sibanyoni (from Macbeth Ncongwane Attorneys) is correct in stating that everyone has a right to privacy. However, more needs to be said.

Section 4.1 of the Code states: “The press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals. The right to privacy may be overridden by a legitimate public interest.”

In this regard, I am quoting from my booklet (still to be published), called Decoding the Code – Explaining the SA Press Code sentence by sentence:

“PRIVACY does not mean the same thing to everybody; we need to distinguish between public officials, public figures (celebrities), and ordinary citizens.

“Public officials have the least right to privacy because they are getting paid with taxpayers’ money – which means that they are accountable to the public, which in turn entails that it is the duty of the press to hold these people accountable. Public officials have no grounds to complain if the press reveals their private matters when these matters have a bearing on their public duty.

“To a lesser extent, but still so, public figures should also be held accountable for their actions. They are role models, especially for the youth, and the press therefore has the right to report on their private lives if those impact on their roles in society.

“Private citizens have the most right to privacy. For example, if your gardener has an extra-marital affair, publications should (normally) ignore it as it is of little or no significance to the public. (However, if the president has such an affair, or some celebrity does, that would be news.)

“THE Code states that the press should exercise “care and consideration” in matters involving privacy and that this right “may be overridden by a legitimate public interest”.

“Therefore:

·         The press should not treat people’s privacy lightly; and

·         If a journalist is going to invade somebody’s privacy, always ask if it really is in the public interest to do so.”

(emphasis added)

I submit that it can justifiably be argued that it was in the public interest (Black Coffee being a public figure) to publish the story.

Lastly, the Preamble to the Code clearly states that the press should avoid unnecessary harm. This means that it may cause harm – it is even its duty to do so, when it is in the public interest.

Given all of the arguments mentioned above, I do believe that the newspaper operated within the confines of the Press Code.

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 of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman