Savita Mbuli vs Sunday Sun

Complainant: Savita Mbuli

Lodged by: Savita Mbuli

Article:  Tragedy haunts Vuyo’s widow

Author of article:  Bongani Mdakane

Date: 30 November 2013

Respondent:  Sunday Sun

Complaint

Ms Savita Mbuli complains about a story, headlined Tragedy haunts Vuyo’s widow, published in Sunday Sun on 3 November 2013.

She complains that the:

  • newspaper published the story despite information received from the deceased’s attorney; and
  • story incorrectly reported several statements as fact (details below).

Analysis

The story, written by Bongani Mdakane, said that the widow of deceased TV personality Vuyo Mbuli “seems to be living under a dark cloud”. Not soon after her husband’s death, she reportedly threw a big party – after which one of her guests died in a car crash. This guest, who was unnamed, was the husband of a colleague of Mr Mbuli at the SABC.

Published despite information from the attorney

Mbuli refers this office to a letter by the attorney of the deceased’s family (Masewawatla Attorneys).

In that letter, dated 1 November 2013 and directed to the newspaper, Masewawatla stated that he represented the wife of the man who died in the car crash, and asked that the Sunday Sun affords his client a right of reply (as it did with Ms Mbuli).

The newspaper says that this letter made no link between Ms Mbuli and that attorney, and that Masewawatla made no request on behalf of her – and argues that that this letter therefore has no relevance to the complaint.

I agree with this argument, as there is no evidence that Masewawatla represented Ms Mbuli and was therefore justified or designated to speak on her behalf – which is why I need to ignore the letter in question as far as this complaint is concerned.

Incorrect statements

The statements in dispute are that:

  • Mbuli had thrown a “big” boozy party (about a week after her husband’s death);
  • one of the guests, who died in a car crash after the party, took on the job of braai master at the event;
  • this man had still been breathing when they arrived at the scene of the accident;
  • she had ordered one of her friends to wrap the man in a blanket and take him to the nearest hospital;
  • she had freaked out and checked herself into a hospital, complaining of a heart attack;
  • a few weeks later she had crossed swords with her in-laws about the mourning period; and
  • this tension resulted in her mother-in-law being hospitalized.

On the first few statements in dispute, Sunday Sun says that it had relied on its sources for the information, and that Mbuli had a chance to refute the allegations, which she chose not to do.

For the rest, the newspaper argues that these allegations were in the public domain and that they had been widely reported. (It provides this office with some of these stories.)

In her response to Sunday Sun’s reply to her complaint, Mbuli denies that:

  • it was a “big” party, as no more than 15 people attended;
  • Ms Noeleen Sanqu left her residence at 03:00;
  • the deceased was still breathing when she arrived at the scene – she says that the newspaper relied on a source, instead of getting its information from the Police Station in Sandton; and
  • she ordered someone to wrap the deceased in a blanket – he was covered in silver material when she arrived at the scene.

She also argues that the statement that:

  • the deceased took on the job of braai master at the party reduced her relationship with him;
  • she freaked out and checked herself into a hospital, complaining that she was having a heart attack, had not been verified; and
  • the allegations that were widely reported in the media did not make them truthful, and adds that these stories merely appeared in Media24 publications.

It is clear to me that most of the statements mentioned above were indeed attributed to sources; those that were not duly attributed, but were stated as fact, were in fact reported as a result of the evidence by these sources.

I also take into account that Mbuli chose not to respond to the quite detailed questions that the journalist sent her two days prior to publication. It is difficult to understand why she complains after publication, when she in the first place refused to present her side of the story even before it was published.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed as it is reasonable to accept that the story was essentially true and justified.

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