Thembisa Kani vs Sunday World

Complainant: Thembisa Kani

Lodged by: Thembisa Kani

Article: Infidelity rocks Kani’s home – Wife accused of having a Ben 10

Author of article: Buchule Raba

Date: 17 December 2014

Respondent: Sunday World

Complaint

Kani is complaining about a front-page article published in Sunday World on 2 December 2014, headlined Infidelity rocks Kani’s home – Wife accused of having a Ben 10.

She complains that the:

  • story is factually incorrect, based on hearsay, and malicious;
  • journalist misquotes her and her husband;
  • reporter did not properly ask them for comment; and
  • article has harmed her reputation and her future.

The text

The story, written by Buchule Raba, says the marriage of former Generations actor Atandwa Kani and his wife Thembisa has been exposed as a sham – while he was working, she “has been practicing bedroom gymnastics with a Ben 10”. The journalist reports he has been reliably informed that Thembisa (32) has an intimate relationship with Kagiso “Kayee” Mashiane (20). The latter reportedly admitted that he was in love with Thembisa, while her first reaction was: “Oh my God, this is going to ruin my marriage. I should go to church and pray.”

Raba also states that he relied on three sources for his information, as well as on the content of some SMS messages between Thembisa and Kagiso.

Analysis

Factually incorrect; based on hearsay; malicious

Kani denies that the allegations about an affair with another man are true, and says that there is no proof for these accusations – the information is based on hearsay. She adds that she does not own a flat in Bryanston (as claimed in the report), and accuses the reporter of malice.

In later correspondence, Kani adds further denials − she denies that she was stranded in Soweto as she “owns a vehicle”, that she has known Mashiane for two years, and also that she bought anyone a phone.

Milazi replies that Raba stumbled upon Kani’s interaction with Mashiane on a social network (which is part of his job). He concluded that they appeared to be more than friends, and therefore he started investigating the matter. Raba then spoke to a few sources close to both Kani and Mashiane, who all confirmed that the two were indeed dating.

The reporter then contacted both parties:

  • Kani responded: “Oh my God, this is going to ruin my marriage. I should go to church and pray”; and
  • Mashiane admitted that he was in love with Kani, and added: “She told me she was married but she never said I should stay away.”

The editor concludes that Raba has never made up a story since he joined Sunday World, “[so]I have no reason to doubt him, and he has shown me his notebook, and the Whatsapp screen grabs from Mr Mashiane’s phone about Mrs Kani…”

Kani replies that she would like to see where in those screen grabs did it prove that the two of them were in a relationship.

My considerations

From the screen grabs in my possession I am not going to deduce that Kani and Mashiane had an affair – even though one of these grabs records Mashiane as referring to Kani as “my one and only” and “my queen”. These texts may be suggestive, but they do not prove that there was an affair between the two of them.

However, I have no reason to disbelieve Raba as far as his sources are concerned.

I also take into account that Mr and Mrs Kani are public figures.

In cohesion, these two arguments (together with Raba having asked all and sundry for comment – see below), mean that it was reasonable for the newspaper to publish the allegations as allegations. The sources were sufficient, independent and informed.

Unfortunately, both the story and the headline fall into the trap of not stating an allegation as an allegation, but rather as fact.

I note that the first two sentences of the story read as follows:

  • “Former Generations actor Atandwa Kani and Thembisa Mdoda’s marriage has been exposed as a sham!”; and
  • “[Thembisa] has been practicing bedroom gymnastics with a Ben 10”.

The third sentence “confirms” these statements, saying that the newspaper has “reliably” learned from different sources that Mrs Kani and Mashiane had an extra-marital affair.

The story, lower down, quotes sources – but this does not obliterate the fact that the story (as quoted above) presented the allegations as fact.

The headline (Infidelity rocks Kani home) falls into the same trap. Even though the sub-heading refers to accusations, it still does not justify the fact that the main headline presents the affair as fact. At the very least, the word “infidelity” should have been placed in inverted commas (to show that it was an accusation, and not necessarily a fact).

Some other considerations:

  • The references in the story to Kani’s (“her”) flat in Bryanston and that she bought Mashiane a phone are neither here nor there – her father reportedly stayed in Bryanston and it is not for me to establish whether Kani has such a flat or not, or whether she bought Mashiane a phone;
  • Kani’s argument that she had not been stranded in Soweto (with Mashiane) because of her ownership of a vehicle also fails – this does not by default mean that she could not have been stranded there;
  • The length of time that Kani has known Mashiane (“two years”) is not material to either the story or the complaint; and
  • The argument of hearsay cannot apply in this case – the sources were sufficient, independent and informed, as argued above.

This means I cannot conclude that the journalist was malicious (read: “the intention to harm”) in his reporting.

Misquoting

Kani complains that the reporter “cruelly” misquoted both her and her husband.

My considerations

Unfortunately, Kani does not stipulate exactly which quotes were wrong (which is probably why the newspaper does not respond to this part of the complaint).

I note that the story carries three quotes from the married couple. They are:

  • “Oh my God, this is going to ruin my marriage. I should go to church and pray” (Thembisa);
  • “We are friends and as far as I’m concerned he has a girlfriend. He is very young for me” (Thembisa)”; and
  • “[let]me speak to my wife first” (her husband).

I assume that the only quote in dispute is the first. Having had a look at Raba’s notes, I have no reason to doubt him on this matter.

However: This is not evidence of an extra-marital affair – Kani could have meant that the mere rumour of an affair would be damaging.

Not properly asked for comment

Kani says that she responded to Raba’s questions as he identified himself as a journalist from a well-known newspaper. However, she says the reporter did not bother to hear her side of the story “through a thorough investigation”. She adds: “We would have expected him to send an email with questions pertaining his telephone communiqué.

My considerations

This part of the complaint has no leg to stand on – the reporter phoned all three parties concerned, and there was no obligation on him to follow-up these calls with e-mails.

Causing harm

Kani complains that the story has unnecessarily harmed her family and business life, her reputation and her future.

My considerations

The Preamble to the Press Code states that the press should not cause unnecessary harm. In this instance, the presentation of allegations of an extra-marital affair as fact, without any solid evidence, both in the headline and in the story, might have caused Kani unnecessary harm. This, I submit, was unfair to her.

Finding

Factually incorrect; based on hearsay; malicious

In so far as Sunday World was justified in publishing the allegations as allegations, the parts of the complaint about hearsay and malice are dismissed.

Where these allegations were presented as fact (both in the main headline and in the story), the newspaper is in breach of Sect. 2.3 of the Press Code that states: “[Where] a report is not based on facts or is founded on opinion, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly.”

Misquoting

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Not properly asking for comment

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Causing harm

The presentation of the allegation of an extra-marital affair as fact, both in the headline and in the story, is in breach of Sect. 2.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall take care to report news…fairly.”

Seriousness of the breach(es)

The breaches of the Press Code resort under Tier 2 with regard to the Hierarchy of Sanctions (Serious breaches).

Sanction

As the presentation of an allegation as fact may have caused Kani and her family some unnecessary harm, Sunday World is directed to:

  • apologise to her for stating the allegation of an extra-marital affair as fact;
  • provide me with the text prior to publication;
  • publish the text on page 1; and
  • end it off with the words, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.”

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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