Sunday Mbuli vs Sunday Sun 2

Complainant: Sunday Mbuli

Lodged by: Sunday Mbuli

Article: Vuyo left me with nothing! – Sad widow Savita faces R1,8 million tax bill! Posters read Vuyo left me broke!

Author of article: Theo Nyhaba

Date: 30 November 2013

Respondent: Sunday Sun 2

Complaint

Mbuli complains about a front page story of Sunday Sun on 17 November 2013, headlined Vuyo left me with nothing! – Sad widow Savita faces R1,8 million tax bill! Posters read Vuyo left me broke!

She complains that the headline and the posters were factually incorrect and misleading; she specifically does not complain about the story itself.

Analysis

The story, written by Theo Nyhaba, said that Mbuli (the widow of TV presenter Vuyo Mbuli) was facing a demand from SARS for more than R1,8 million – and that she did not have the money to pay this debt.

These are my considerations:

  • When a story is faulty, and the headline reasonably reflects the incorrect content, it follows that the headline will also be false. However, if there is no problem with the story, or there is no complaint about it, the only other question remaining is if the headline reasonably reflected the content of the article, as required by Section 10.1 of the Press Code (which is the case in this matter, as Mbuli did not complain about the story itself);
  • The story quoted a letter from the attorneys of Mbuli’s deceased husband (a credible source, surely), stating that it appeared that his estate might have been insolvent. (A copy of this letter by routledge modise attorneys from SARS, dated 12 November 2013, confirms this statement.) If an estate is apparently insolvent, it is logical to accept that there was most probably nothing left to inherit. The gist of the headline was therefore justified (read: that Ms Mbuli was left with nothing); and
  • The story, however, also reported that Ms Mbuli did not want to comment, save to say that she had referred the matter to her attorney. It is therefore misleading when the headline stated pertinently that she herself said that she had been left with nothing – she clearly did not utter those words, or implied them. There was indeed nothing in the story to substantiate the use of the word “me”. The following headline would therefore have been correct: Vuyo left her (not “me”) with nothing!

The same goes for the posters.

In short: Both the headline and the posters put words in her mouth that, according to the story itself, she had never uttered. This may have caused her some unnecessary embarrassment.

Finding

While the gist of both the headline and the posters were justified, it was wrong to attribute the content thereof to Ms Mbuli (the use of the word “me” in both the headline and the poster). That is in breach of Sect. 10.1 and 10.2 of the Press Code that states that headlines and posters “shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report in question”.

Sanction

Sunday Sun is:

  • cautioned to be more careful when writing headlines and posters;
  • directed to correct the matter by publishing the text below on page 2; and
  • directed to publish the following words on its front page: Savita Mbuli – correction on page 2.

(The last sanction is necessary due to the huge prominence the story enjoyed, both on the front page and on posters.)

Beginning of text

Sunday Sun published on 17 November 2013 a front page story, headlined Vuyo left me with nothing! – Sad widow Savita faces R1,8 million tax bill! Posters read Vuyo left me broke!

Savita Mbuli lodged a complaint with Press Ombudsman Johan Retief about this headline and the posters. He said that while we were justified to have stated that she was left with nothing (based on an attorney’s letter that stated her late husband’s estate may have been insolvent), he cautioned us for erring in attributing the words to her.

He said: “Both the headline and the posters put words in her mouth that, according to the story itself, she had never uttered. This may have caused her some unnecessary embarrassment.”

Retief asked us to correct this mistake, which we hereby do.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

End of text

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