Complainant: Sydney Kaye
Lodged by: Sydney Kaye
Article: Israeli military chiefs face arrest in SA
Author of article: Shannon Ebrahim
Date: 2 February 2016
Respondent: Editor of the Cape Times newspaper, Aneez Salie
Kaye is complaining about an article in Cape Times of 18 November 2016, headlined Israeli military chiefs face arrest in SA.
He complains about the veracity of:
· the SAPS document that the journalist said she based her reportage on; and
· two sentences in the story (that had “no substance” – details below).
Kaye adds that the story was biased.
The article, written by foreign editor Shannon Ebrahim, said that South Africa had pledged to enforce arrest warrants issued by Turkey against four Israeli navy and defence force commanders for their involvement in the 2010 Israeli attacks on the Mavi Marmara aid ship (which led to the deaths of nine humanitarian activists). The journalist stated that the SAPS had confirmed in writing that it would enforce the warrants of arrest if these commanders entered South African territory. An arrest warrant had also reportedly been circulated to the SA Border Control system on 3 September 2015 and the information had been forwarded to Interpol SA for liaison with Interpol Turkey so that a “red notice” would be issued.
Veracity of the document
Kaye questions the veracity of the document that Ebrahim said she had based her reportage on and challenges the newspaper to produce a copy of the SAPS letter which the story referred to.
I have obtained a copy of this document – it does exist. This refers to a letter by the Organised Crime: Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation dated 2015-11-10. (It is a different question if the journalist interpreted this memorandum correctly.)
Veracity of statements
Kaye challenges the veracity of the following sentences:
· “The SAPS confirmed in writing that it would enforce warrants of arrest if the following Israeli military chiefs entered South African territory: Chief of General Staff Rau Ashkenazi, Naval Forces Commander Eliezer Marom, Head of Airforce Intelligence Brigadier-General Avishay Levi and Major-General Chief of IDF Military Intelligence Amos Yadin”; and
· “[Independent Media] confirmed that it had sight of the letter and also confirmation from SAPS that South Africa would indeed enforce the arrest warrants”.
He also says that the reportage conflicted with what the police actually said as published in the Daily Maverick, where Hawks spokeman Hangwani Mulaudzi was quoted as saying, “We are not aware of any warrants that have been issued”. The latter reportedly added that he had also spoken with colleagues at Interpol, “who were similarly unaware of the situation”.
Salie says that, in addition to the letter, the newspaper got corroborating information from two confidential sources
He also replies with regard to the references to Bateman.
The editor says Ebrahim contacted the Israeli ambassador to South Afrca, Mr Arthur Lenk, who stated his respect for the South African legal system and said he had full confidence that SA would not allow its system to be abused or politicized. Salie concludes that the Israeli representatives in South Africa were given ample opportunity to respond “and their response was published in order to create balance in the article…”
Davids had taken legal action against Israel, after which the Turkish courts decided that the commanders accused in the matter needed to stand trial – hence the warrants of arrest issued by Turkey when the accused did not appear. “Context regarding the matter was sought from … Davids as she was the person who laid the charges,” the editor states.
Salie concludes, “The article was well sourced with more than one source corroborating the claim. Furthermore Ebrahim obtained documentary proof of the allegations from an official source who confirmed the content; the source … wil remain confidential.”
The question is whether the newspaper was justified in making the statements that are in dispute.
I need to consider three issues here – the sources, the correspondence by Mulaudzi, and the SAPS document.
Firstly, I am in no position to make any sort of a decision regarding the newspaper’s sources, as I know nothing about their seniority, independence and knowledge of the matter.
Mulaudzi responded to Ebrahim (dated 22 November 2015) as follows: “After serious consultation we can confirm that the letter has been received and it will be processed to the relevant section for compliance. That is all we are prepared to say at this stage.”
The document used by Ebrahim as the basis (at least partly) of her stories, was printed on an official SAPS letterhead, was headlined Request to circulation of suspects regarding the attack on the Mavi Mamara (sic); Athlone Cas 216/10/2012.
It reads (unedited, save for the omission of names that may identify the source/s):
So, what does this document say, and what does it not say?
For clarity’s sake and in summary, this document says that:
· the South African authorities have received the warrants of arrest for the four military commanders;
· the military men in question were found guilty (in Turkey) in their absence (hence the warrants of arrest);
· the information was:
o circulated on the Border Control System (on 3 September 2015);
o submitted to Interpol Pretoria;
· the above happened in order for their Turkey counterparts to issue a red notice;
· a letter was sent to the Priority Crimes Litigation unit in this regard; and
· should such persons be detected, Interpol Pretoria must immediately be informed so that this body could liaise with the Turkish Authorities to confirm that a request for extradition be forthcoming.
(Regarding a “red notice”, Wikipedia – taking cognisance of its shortcomings – states that an Interpol notice is “[a]n international alert used by police to communicate information about crimes, criminals and threats to their counterparts around the world. They are circulated by Interpol to all member states at the request of a member or an authorised international entity… There are eight types… The most well-known notice is the Red Notice which is the ‘closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today’.”)
I take into account the fact that the SAPS document stated some actions as fact, while others appeared to be recommendations, which I need to compare with the information in the stories.
My first observation in this regard is that it is true that the document did not explicitly say that South Africa would enforce the arrest warrants.
However, the following questions must also be asked: Why was the information circulated on the Border Control System, why was it submitted to Interpol Pretoria and to the Priority Crimes Litigation unit, why should Interpol Pretoria have immediately be informed, and why should this body have liaised with the Turkish Authorities to confirm that request for extradition be forthcoming – if it was not the intention to enforce the arrest warrants?
I believe these considerations might have been reasonable enough grounds for the newspaper to conclude that all of these actions (not promises, or possible actions) were taken in order to enforce the arrest warrants.
However, this still was (and remained) a conclusion – one of which the public should have been made aware. It is one thing to come to a conclusion based on certain information, and quite another to state your conclusion as fact. A conclusion may per definition be either correct or incorrect – and in any case, it may be premature.
There are two reasons for caution in this regard:
· The SAPS document ends with the word “noted”, under which another (credible) signature appeared. If this word was “approved”, or “granted”, or something to that effect, it would have made a difference – but it did not; and
· Mulaudzi’s response to Ebrahim was quite cautious.
Both the use of the word “noted” and Mulaudzi’s phrase “it will be processed” lead me to believe that Ebrahim should have clarified that, based on the information at her disposal, the newspaper had concluded that South Africa had pledged to enforce Turkey’s issuing of arrest warrants against four Israeli commanders.
Even though Cape Times’s conclusion may prove to be correct at a later stage, it still was premature for the newspaper to present its conclusions as fact.
I cannot consider the statements published by Bateman, as he is a secondary source in this matter.
Kaye argues that Ebrahim merely printed what she had been told by the representative of the BDS (“which is a political activist anti-Israeli group”) without any research or confirmation from official sources – amounting to a propaganda text in the guise of hard news.
He adds that the journalist should disclose herself as an anti-Israel activist and that she is a supporter, if not a member, of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS).
Salie denies that the Cape Times is biased in its reportage of the conflict in the Middle East. Referring to some findings by this office, the editor says there can be no question “that both sides of the Middle East conflict feel that they are not being adequately/accurately covered in the media”.
The editor says journalist Gadija Davids, who independently experienced the event, was embroiled in this incident – “hence the reason for outlining her version”.
He adds that the merits of this case are yet to be tested in court, adding that not only were the articles fair and balanced, but they were also “undeniably and overwhelmingly in the public’s interest”.
Davids took legal action against Israel, after which the Turkish courts decided that the commanders accused in the matter needed to stand trial – hence the warrants of arrest issued by Turkey when the accused did not appear at court in that country. “Context regarding the matter was sought from … Davids as she was the person who laid the charges,” the editor explains.
Salie also emphasises that Ebrahim contacted the Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Mr Arthur Lenk, who reportedly stated his respect for the South African legal system and said that he had full confidence that SA would not allow its system to be abused or politicized. He concludes that the Israeli representatives in South Africa were given ample opportunity to respond “and their response was published in order to create balance in the article…”
My task is not to consider whether the Cape Times had been biased in its reportage on the conflict in the past, as the two articles in dispute are the only ones now in my sights.
While I can fully understand Kay’s views on this issue, I also need to keep in mind what Salie said, namely that the merits of the Mavi Marmara case are yet to be tested in court – a statement Kaye did not dispute.
Also, one person’s set of “facts” may be another one’s set of propaganda. This office is in no position to decide on the merits of the contextual arguments in question, and it would therefore be inappropriate for me to endeavour to make any kind of decision on this issue.
Veracity of the document
This part of the complaint is dismissed.
Statements relating to ‘arrest warrants’
The newspaper is in breach of Section 2.3 of the Press Code for stating its conclusions as fact, namely that:
· “The SAPS confirmed in writing that it would enforce warrants of arrest if the…Israeli military chiefs entered South African territory”; and
· “[Independent Media] confirmed that it had…confirmation from SAPS that South Africa would indeed enforce the arrest warrants”.
Section 2.3 reads, “[W]here a report is … founded on opinion, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly.”
The remainder of this part of the complaint is dismissed.
This part of the complaint is dismissed.
Seriousness of breaches
Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of our Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1), serious breaches (Tier 2) and serious misconduct (Tier 3).
The breach of the Press Code as indicated above is a Tier 2 offence.
The Cape Times is cautioned for stating its conclusion as fact, namely that the SAPS had confirmed in writing that it would enforce warrants of arrest if the Israeli military chiefs entered South African territory.
The newspaper is directed to publish this finding on the same page as the story, as well as on its website.
The text, which should be approved by me, should end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”.
The headline should reflect the content of the text. A heading such as Matter of Fact, or something similar, is not acceptable.
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.