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Ombud dismisses Mbalula's complaint against M&G

Staff Reporter

Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief has dismissed a complaint by Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula against the Mail & Guardian.

Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief has dismissed a complaint by Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula against the Mail & Guardian newspaper.

Mbalula had complained about a story published on April 8, and headlined “Kebble ‘mentored’ Mbalula”.

The story, written by Mandy Rossouw, was about a new book called Killing Kebble by Mandy Wiener.

Rossouw focused on the relationship between slain mining magnate Brett Kebble and Mbalula and reported that the former was one of Mbalula’s earliest mentors.

His butler, Andrew Minnaar, reportedly said Kebble would “coach” Mbalula on what to say and how to say it at ANC Youth League rallies.

In his findings released on Friday, Retief said Mbalula complained that the article relied on privileged statements made in a court process in which he was not involved.

“He says that he did not have the opportunity to dispute allegations in court and that the newspaper therefore should have reported fairly and accurately and not simply have focused on what it perceived to be a ‘sting’. The implication is that the reportage was unfair.”

However, from the story it was clear that the story was not reporting on court proceedings; it was clearly an article on Wiener’s book (that largely contained information about the murder trial).

“Surely, it was the newspaper’s right to report on the book, which was sold out four days after publication.

“There is also nothing unfair about a practice such as this. It would have been unfair if the reporter did not ask Mbalula’s views, given the nature of the story. But his views are adequately reflected in the story,” Retief said.

Retief said, among other things, the story also contained Mbalula’s denial that he was “coached” by Kebble or that he was his mentor.

It said: “I [Mbalula] couldn’t be coached by anyone. Kebble was well versed and well informed, he had views that he would share with us, but that doesn’t amount to coaching.”

Further, as the newspaper was merely reporting on what the book said, it could not reasonably be expected to verify what Minnaar said. That was not the purpose of the story.

There was also no reason to believe that the M&G wanted to defame and undermine Mbalula’s integrity, or that the newspaper “adopted” or “affirmed” allegations in the book, Retief said.

The complaint was dismissed in its entirety.—Sapa

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