Philip Machanick vs City Press

Complainant: Philip Machanick

Lodged by: Philip Machanick

Article:  Agang SA founder Mamphela Ramphele moves on

Author of article:  Biénne Huisman

Date: 5 March 2015

Respondent: City Press Newspaper, Dumisane Lubisi

Complaint

Machanick is complaining about a report in City Press of 22 February 2015, headlined Agang SA founder Mamphela Ramphele moves on. (A version of this story also appeared in Rapport.)

He complains that the article:

·         is inaccurate and unfair in that it makes a big issue of Dr Mamphela Ramphele’s lifestyle, as if that was relevant to the finances of her former party;

·         fails to mention that Ramphele was forcibly ejected from her party by two Agang MPs who engineered a coup with a baseless accusation of fraud; and

·         mentions a recent court case involving “money owed to former staff members” – creating the false impression that this was as a consequence of actions by Ramphele.

He adds that, while Ramphele was approached for comment and declined, the reporter could easily have found knowledgeable other sources for a balanced view.

The text

The report, written by Biénne Huisman, says that former Agang leader Ramphele lives a life of luxury, while former staff members struggle to make ends meet. She reportedly “reigns” over a financial empire estimated to be worth R55-million, and enjoys all sorts of luxuries – while some former Agang staff members have lost their homes and were forced to sell appliances on Gumtree. The journalist reports: “Ramphele’s former bodyguard is owed R70 000. Financial dire straits forced the man…to give up his flat in the Cape Town suburb of Goodwood. He also had to sell his bed and TV set and regened on his young daughter’s maintenance payments.”

Huisman also states that Ramphele was unhappy when Agang won only two seats in Parliament, and that she ditched the party in July – leaving Agang with debt totaling millions of rands. Ramphele is quoted as saying that she has lost a lot of money in Agang, adding, “The money that’s owing is money owed by Agang. All political parties post the elections have huge debts. I have nothing to do with Agang.”

The complaint in more detail

Inaccurate, unfair

Machanick complains the report is inaccurate and unfair in that it makes a big issue of Ramphele’s lifestyle “as if that is relevant to the state of the finances of her former party”. He calls the article a hatchet job on Ramphele. Without cognizance of the fact that she is not responsible for the current management of the party, a distorted, inaccurate perception of her actions is created.

“Innuendo about her lifestyle is irrelevant to the main point of the article, the question of who is responsible for the party’s campaign debt. Read in toto, the article is designed to smear Dr Ramphele rather than to inform…”

Omission

Machanick complains the story fails to mention that Ramphele was forcibly ejected from her party by two Agang MPs who engineered a coup with a baseless accusation of fraud (that they have since been forced to retract).

Court case

Machanick complains that the article refers to a recent court case between two Agang MPs involving money owed to former staff members – creating the false impression that this was a consequence of actions by Ramphele. “In fact she had long left the party when this dispute arose…”

Inadequate attempts to seek comment

Machanick complains that, while Ramphele was approached for comment and declined, Huisman could easily have found knowledgeable other sources for events at the time (and subsequently) to present a balanced view. “In the context of the current ongoing battle between factions running the party, the story is clearly informed by [one]faction, and is anything but a balanced, fact-based representation of what is going on in Agang.”

The newspaper’s response

Lubisi replies that Huisman saw Ramphele at an event and that this stimulated her thoughts on the state of Agang SA after Ramphele – since her role as the party’s leader and figurehead catapulted it to such prominence for some months before the 2014 elections.

He adds, “The sources have no interest in returning to AgangSA and do not care who runs it. They want the money they are owed repaid to them, as was made clear in the story. The sources only spoke to our reporter because the reporter had cultivated a relationship of trust of them over time and guaranteed them anonymity.”

The editor says the story was fact-based and left readers to draw their own conclusions. “In researching the story, there were several instances of former party staffers and suppliers who had spoken out on record and even taken the party to court to try and get money that they were owed.”

Lubisi argues that it is an unavoidable fact, as confirmed by Ramphele, that she is extremely wealthy, and there is no suggestion in the story that her wealth was obtained in a dubious manner.

He concludes that City Press (unsuccessfully) attempted to contact Ramphele. To ensure a greater level of balance and fairness, the newspaper included an older quote by her to provide context and make it clear that she had previously dealt with such allegations and concerns within her former party.

My considerations

Inaccurate, unfair

Huisman contrasted Ramphele’s present lifestyle with those of some former members of Agang who were now “battling to piece their lives together”. She based this contrast on information that she had garnered from her sources (former Agang members). Surely, the journalist was justified in doing so. Also: Nowhere did the reporter state or insinuate that Ramphele had been responsible for Agang’s debt.

Omission

I do not know if Ramphele was forcibly ejected from her party by two Agang MPs who engineered a coup with a baseless accusation of fraud, as stated by Machanick. However, even if that was the case, the omission of this “information” cannot be seen as central to the story – which means that it cannot be considered to be in breach of the Press Code.

Court case

Machanick reads too much into the reference in the story to the court case – I do not believe that it created the impression that this was a consequence of actions by Ramphele. The context is the contrast between her and some former Agang members, and this merely serves as an example of this contrast.

Inadequate attempts to seek comment

City Press tried to get comment from Ramphele and also reported that her personal assistant did not respond to several requests for comment – adhering to the requirements set by Section 2.5 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 Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *