Ntsiki Matubatuba vs The Informer

Complainant: Ntsiki Matubatuba and Andile Nomabhunga

Article: Municipality fails to explain half a million rand talent search budget

Date: 11 March 2014

Respondent: The Informer

Complaint

Matubatuba is complaining about an article published in The Informer of 3 December 2013, headlined: Municipality fails to explain half a million rand talent search budget

She complains that the story was factually incorrect, and that the journalist contacted neither her, nor the mayor, nor the Jaziel brothers (reportedly the intended recipients of the relevant municipal funds) for comment.

Texts

The story, written by Andile Nomabhunga, followed a day after The Informer’s sister publication carried a story about accusations that Matubatuba, a “senior manager in Matatiele municipality”, had used municipal funds to build a recording studio in her house. “The recording studio in question was allegedly built with funds meant for a talent search project initiated by the Jaziel Brothers.”

Nomabhunga reported that the Matatiele Local Municipality could not justify a budget of half a million rand for a talent search (according to municipal manager Dr Tsepang Nakin).

It is important to note that the journalist followed this up with another story in which Nakin had condemned the opening of a recording studio in Matubatuba’s house. This story was headlined: Mrs Matubatuba was wrong

Analysis

Factually incorrect

Matubatuba does not specify what exactly she found wrong with the story. However, from a similar complaint against another newspaper I take it that her complaint is about the allegation that she illegitimately used municipal funds to build a recording studio at her home, saying that the municipality had authorized the expenses.

The story reported allegations that Matubatuba had used municipal funds to build the studio in her home.

I note that the story did not state as fact that Matubatuba had misused municipal funds to build the studio.

I believe that Matubatuba does not deny that the studio was built in her house; only that she had used or misused municipal funds in this regard.

In general, a newspaper is not at liberty to publish just any allegation – it should ensure that there are reasonable grounds for such statements. Just think for one moment how much unnecessary harm the press can cause if it prints allegations that have no basis whatsoever.

In this instance, though, public funds were at stake, and an allegation such as this one should be taken seriously – especially if the municipal manager denies any knowledge of the matter. This is not to say that the allegation is in fact true, of course – all it says is that surely, the press acts in the public interest if it publishes such a statement as an allegation.

Not asked for comment

Matubatuba complains that the journalist did not contact her, or the mayor and/or the Jaziel brothers for comment.

The editor says that he did speak to the municipality’s spokesperson, Mrs Matshoba, “who instead of responding to questions she fought with me” for going to Matubatuba’s house without her. He adds that he also sent a list of questions to Nakin, who told him that he was waiting for a report from Matubatuba.

Although I appreciate the editor’s attempts to get comment from the municipality, he should also have asked Matubatuba herself, to give her an opportunity to put forward her side of the story. The Press Code is quite clear about that.

I note that the journalist reported that he did speak to her – but not about the issue at hand. I can only wonder why he did not ask her opinion while he had the chance to do so.

Given that the editor did ask the municipality’s official spokespeople for comment, it was not necessary to contact the mayor as well. Also, I do not believe that the publication was at fault for not speaking to the Jaziel brothers – they were not subjected to critical reporting.

Finding

Factually incorrect

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Not asked for comment

The newspaper did not try to get Matubatuba’s comments and was therefore in breach of Section 2.5 of the Press Code that says: “A publication shall seek the views of the subject of critical reporting in advance of publication…”

Sanction

The Informer is:

  • reprimanded for not asking Matubatuba for her side of the story (which should be published); and
  • directed to publish her opinion on this matter (if she still wants to comment).

The newspaper should furnish our office with the text prior to publication. Please add to the text: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.”

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

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman