The Maarohanye family vs Sunday World

Complainant: The Maarohanye family

Lodged by: Tiisetso Wilkinson

Article: Jub Jub bust for drugs in jail – Muso faces disciplinary hearing in prison

Author of article: Amos Mananyetso and Ngwako Malatji

Date: 30 May 2015

Respondent: Abdul Milazi, editor of the Sunday World

Complaint

The Maarohanye family is complaining about a front-page article in the Sunday World of 10 May 2015, headlined Jub Jub bust for drugs in jail – Muso faces disciplinary hearing in prison.

The family complains the story falsely stated that hip-hop artist Jub Jub Maarohanye had been:

·         caught with drugs in prison, that he had been a drug addict, and that he had been convicted for alcohol and cocaine abuse;

·         facing a disciplinary hearing in prison;

·         caught with drugs during his hearing; and

·         taken to a rehabilitation centre.

They also complain about the headline and posters, which left “no doubt as to the truthfulness of the article”.

The family adds that this report may adversely affect any future parole process.

The texts

The story, written by Amos Mananyetso and Ngwako Malatji, said that convicted hip-hop artist Molema “Jub Jub” Maarohanye had allegedly been bust for the possession of drugs at Leeuwkop Prison on several occasions. The Department of Correctional Services reportedly denied the allegations, but the article quoted three anonymous sources, all alleging that Jub Jub had been caught with drugs.

Motivation behind the complaint

The Maarohanye family says that Jub Jub’s appeal (in October 2014) was successful and all convictions, including that of drug abuse, were overturned by a bench of three judges in the South Gauteng High Court. The conviction of murder was reduced to culpable homicide.

The family says it was therefore wrong to print that he was convicted of alcohol and drug abuse. He was also never convicted for cocaine abuse. “The aim here is to create the impression that he is abusing cocaine in prison [while he]has never been caught with drugs during incarceration.”

They deny that Jub Jub was facing a disciplinary hearing and that he has been charged with any offence while in jail.

Instead, the family says Jub Jub has been an exemplary prisoner – he has been involved with the choir and sports teams, he has been hailed by the Area Commission for his contribution to the “Pillar to Post” initiative in prisons, and he is continuing his studies.

The family says the newspaper got confirmation from a named Department of Correctional Services representative that these allegations were untrue. “Despite this and despite absolutely no proof to the contrary, the publication went ahead and accused [Jub Jub] of being a strung out drug addict. This is neither balanced nor responsible journalism and smacks of a deliberate intention to destroy [him].”

They note that the story included a “single, thin paragraph that disputes their lies as a show of ‘objectivity’. However, the energy with which this article has been written and promoted is anything but objective”.

The family concludes, “[The newspaper is] using a platform that exists to uphold our democracy to wage a vicious and relentless attack on [Jub Jub].”

Sunday World’s response

Milazi says the information about Jub Jub having been caught with drugs was volunteered to the newspaper by a prison warder who did not stand to gain anything by doing so. The journalists corroborated this information with a senior official (who was not allowed to comment officially). They also tested the information against another warder (who worked in a different wing).

“All these three sources are independent of each other.”

The editor adds that the newspaper also contacted an associate of Jub Jub who had visited him a number of times, and this person confirmed that a warder had told him that Jub Jub had been caught with “substances”.

He also says the newspaper has worked with these sources before on other prison stories. “Even though we trust our sources, we still made sure we don’t report these as fact but made it clear that they are allegations by prison warders. We also published the formal response from the Correctional Services high up in the story and didn’t bury it at the end…”

In conclusion, he denies that the story said Jub Jub had:

·         been convicted of alcohol and cocaine abuse;

·         been caught with drugs during his trial;

·         been taken to a rehabilitation centre; and

·         appeared before a parole board.

The complaint about Jub Jub’s conviction of murder which was later overturned to culpable homicide also has no leg to stand on – the story stated exactly that, the editor says.

Analysis

My first observation is about the contradictory nature of the story.

First, statements such as the following stretch the newspaper’s assertion that all its claims were presented as allegations:

·         “The award-winning rapper is in hot water with the prison authorities after warders allegedly nabbed him in the Jozi prison;

·         “We can reveal that Maarohanye had been such a headache to the prison authorities that they even contemplated taking him to rehab so he could kick the habit;

·         “Maarohanye will be hauled before the prison’s disciplinary committee and punished if found guilty of the alleged offence; and

·         “The startling news came after our exposé last week about…”

And yet, the last sentence stated that Jub Jub was “expected to be released on parole for good behaviour later this year”.

At the very least, if words have meanings, this does not make any sense; at the worst, the newspaper appears not to believe its own story.

Now, regarding the newspaper’s “three independent” sources:

Source 1: The story said, “Maarohanye’s friend and regular visitor, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, said he learnt from one of the warders that the muso was in trouble after being caught with ‘things’. ‘That warder did not want to tell us what were the things they found on him,’ he said. The visitor added that the latest bust was likely to affect Maarohanye’s chances for parole. ‘But the department will have to demonstrate that they tried and failed to rehabilitate him because now that he is in prison, he is their responsibility,’ said the visitor.” (Own emphasis.)

This is hearsay – Jub Jub’s friend says someone else told him…

Source 2: The article called this source a senior correctional services official (who was not allowed to speak to the media).

Source 3: This person, who “confirmed” the allegations about drug abuse in prison, was a warder who worked in a different section. The story said, “Although I don’t work in the section where he is being kept, my colleagues told me about it, said the warder. ‘The matter is being discussed openly among us. They said he has a serious problem, and the department was considering taking him to rehab. He’s been a big problem ever since he got here. His money and power make him think he can get away with anything’.” (My emphasis.)

Again, this is hearsay.

This means that the story was based on one source only, and anonymous at that – while the Department officially denied the allegations. I submit that this single source was not enough ground for the newspaper to publish such serious allegations. Even though the newspaper says it has corroborated the information, it has in fact not done so – one cannot use hearsay to corroborate information.

While taking into account the possibility that the allegations may be true, they may also be hugely damaging – and then probably unnecessarily so. From a journalistic point of view the newspaper should not have published them, let alone stating some of them as fact. This made the story fundamentally unfair.

I have now stated on numerous occasions that an allegation should not be published just because someone has made it, as they may be defamatory and may unnecessarily tarnish somebody’s reputation and dignity – especially if such an allegation comes from a single, anonymous source.

The mere use of the word “allegedly” does not protect a publication in all cases, such as in this instance.

Even worse, of course, is when such an allegation is presented as fact, as happened in the headline (which stated Jub Jub’s “bust for drugs in jail” as fact).

Although I do not have a copy of the posters, I note that the family claims they read, Jub Jub caught with drugs – and that the editor does not deny it. Instead, he argues that the word allegedly could not fit into the narrow space. “In hindsight, we could have [used]single quotation marks…”

Again, an allegation was stated as fact.

Milazi is correct in stating that the story never said that Jub Jub had:

·         been convicted of alcohol and cocaine abuse;

·         been caught with drugs during his trial;

·         been taken to a rehabilitation centre; and

·         appeared before a parole board.

Finding

Sunday World is in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

·         2.1: “The press shall take care to report news…fairly”;

·         2.4 “Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be stated in such report”;

·         10.1: “Headlines…shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report…in question”; and

·         10.2: “Posters shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the reports in question.”

The rest 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 statements of fact and the unverified assertions are Tier 2 offences.

Sanction

Sunday World is directed to:

·         withdraw the gist of the story, (which is that Jub Jub was allegedly caught with drugs in jail); and

·         apologise to the Maarohanye family on its front page.

It should also withdraw the wording of the headline and the posters, and apologise for them.

The text should:

·         include the fact that I have not said that the information was wrong, but only that the newspaper was not justified in publishing hearsay evidence and information of such a damning nature originating from a single, anonymous source;

·         be published immediately underneath its masthead on the front page;

·         end with the words, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding;

·         be published on the newspaper’s website, if it had appeared there as well; and

·         be presented to me for approval prior to publication.

The headline should reflect the content of the text. A heading such as “Matter of Fact” or something similar is not acceptable.

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