Rachard Samuel vs Sunday Independent2

Complainant: Rachard Samuel

Lodged by: Rachard Samuel

Article:  Public Works finalising probe into police lease cases

Author of article: Candice Baily

Date: 3 September 2013

Respondent: Sunday Independent2

Complaint

Mr Samuel, a former Deputy-Director of the Inner-City Regeneration at the Department of Public Works, complains about a story headlined Public Works finalising probe into police lease cases in The Sunday Independent, published on 14 July 2013.

Samuels complains that both the story and the headline erroneously linked him to corruption regarding police lease cases, and also omitted to refer to charges that he had been found not guilty of.

Analysis

The story, written by Candice Baily, said that the Department of Public Works has spent over R5-million on salaries of suspended officials for their involvement in two multi-million rand police head office leases in Pretoria and Durban.

Erroneously linked to corrupt leases

The story

The story mentions the following about Samuel (in total):

  • “Meanwhile, two dismissed officials – Rachard Samuel and… – have approached the General Public Service Sectoral Bargaining Council to appeal their dismissals”;
  • “Samuel, a deputy director-general of Inner-City Regeneration at the department, was found guilty on charges related to alleged payments for his own benefit”; and
  • “Samuel confirmed that he was awaiting a date for the council to hear his arbitration but would not comment any further. The Sunday Independent understands that one of Samuel’s main arguments will be that the chairman presiding over the hearing contradicted himself in his findings.”

The second bullet above is clearly the one in contention.

Samuel complains that the story in dispute wrongly implied that he had benefitted from payments arising out of the police leases, arguing that this reportage has defamed him. He refers to a finding of mine in December 2012 in which I stated that the story (also published in The Sunday Independent, about the same matter) erroneously linked him to lease fraud. He then argues that the story presently in dispute was in contravention of my earlier finding.

In this finding, I stated that Samuel was found guilty on charges of having received bribe money, but that he was not involved in any lease agreements (as said or implied in that story).

The question now is if the story in dispute either said or implied that he was linked to lease fraud.

I note the following:

  • The story consisted of five columns; the first reference to Samuel is only in the fourth column – clearly, he was not part of the gist of the story;
  • While the first three columns were about suspended officials who still received salaries, the first reference to Samuel started with the word “meanwhile”, coupled with a reference to his dismissal – together, these two considerations should have made it clear that what was about to follow may have had nothing to do with lease fraud at all; and
  • The next sentence that mentioned Samuel confirmed this – it does not mention leases, but indeed referred to charges related to alleged payments for his own benefit (that he had been found guilty of).

It is reasonable to conclude that neither the text of the story nor its context either said or implied that Samuels were implied in lease fraud.

The headline

The headline mentions the words “lease cases”, and Samuel complains that this implicated him in lease fraud.

Not so. No headline can cover every aspect of a story, especially not in cases such as this one where the story is quite lengthy. Section 10.1 of the Press Code requires headlines to give a reasonable reflection of the content of the story – which is exactly what this headline did.

Omissions

Samuel complains that the story omitted to refer to the fact that he had been found not guilty on several charges. He notes that I have stated in my earlier ruling that it was unfair to have neglected to mention this fact (as without it the proper context was lacking).

 

That is true, but only partly so. I indeed stated that his “not guilty” findings should have been reported, but as motivation for this I said, “as he was the main focus of the story”. In this case, he was not.

Moreover, one cannot reasonably expect a newspaper to include all facts about a person in a story, especially not if that person is not central to the article.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

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

 

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