By Novell Zwange – JOHANNESBURG – In an unrelated case to the arrest and release of Sunday Times reporter this week, the African National Congress (ANC) said it welcomes the findings by the Press Ombudsman that City Press has breached the Press Code in an August 16, 2009 article titled “Phosa tries to muzzle City Press”.
Jackson Mthembu, the ANC National Spokesperson said, “The ANC feels vindicated by the outcome of the enquiry. It has always been our view as the ANC that we were treated unfairly by this piece of journalism.”
“Our long held view is that the usage of unknown sources cannot be relied upon because it is short of accuracy, it is potentially damaging, defamatory and could violate someone’s dignity.”
“We welcome this outcome because it is in keeping with our belief that individuals must also be protected from unnecessary and unwarranted harm by the media.”
“As the ANC, we still believe that the media as one of the oldest and most important institution in our democracy; must be in the hands of responsible individuals who are committed to the principles of objectivity, fairness and balanced reporting.”
“Media freedom and independence; its values and principles, must always be upheld by those who claim to be its proponent and custodians.”
“We believe that this turn of event will go along way to assist the media fraternity to respect and protect this important fundamental human right, the right to inherent dignity and the
right to have one’s dignity respected and protected.”
“We therefore await the apology from the City Press as directed by the Press Ombdsman with the conditions as prescribed.” he said.
Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief found City Press newspaper guilty of breaching the Press Code in an August 16 2009 article about ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa and ordered it to apologise.
Both Phosa and the ANC complained about a front page story headlined “Phosa tries to muzzle City Press”.
Retief found the newspaper did not give Phosa ample time to respond and was therefore in breach of Article 1.1 of the Press Code, which states: “The press shall be obliged to report news… fairly.”
Phosa was only contacted at about noon on the day before publication.
“Surely, given the seriousness of the allegations (in the story), Phosa should have been given more time to respond,” Retief said.
It was not fair to intend to print a story that could be potentially damaging, defamatory and a violation of someone’s dignity and then to invite the subject of that story to have a right of reply at the last moment, which is exactly what happened here.”
The reference in the story to Phosa’s “eleventh-hour” bid to stop City Press from publishing the story was found to be unfair because it was not balanced with the fact that Phosa himself was contacted at the eleventh hour.
City Press was therefore in breach of Article 1.1, as well as in breach of Article 1.2.2, which states: “News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts (whether) by omissions…”
The random use by City Press of unnamed “sources”, without any attempt to state their number, credibility and especially their independence, amounted to a breach of Article 1.4 of the Press Code, which states: “When 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 mentioned in such a report”.
The posters referring to the story elevated opinion as fact, which was misleading.
Thus, they breached Article 5.2 of the Press Code, which states: “Posters shall not mislead the public…”
Retief found the reference to Phosa trying to stop the newspaper from publishing a story as well as the headline to be a true reflection of what had happened. This part of the complaint was therefore dismissed.
As the statements pointing to a low-key contest and a deteriorating relationship between Phosa and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe could reasonably have been true, this part of the complaint was also dismissed.
The breaches of the code could have caused the ANC in general and Phosa in particular some personal and professional harm, he said.
Retief directed City Press to apologise to both Phosa and the ANC for various breaches of the code and for possible harm done to them.
This should be done on the front page and within the context of an appropriate summary of the finding. The Ombudsman’s Office should be furnished with a copy of this text prior to publication, he said.