/ 23 May 2008

City Press wins appeal over Zuma report

City Press has successfully appealed against a press ombudsman finding over the accuracy and fairness of a report on African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma, the Press Council Appeals Panel said on Friday.

The article, headlined ”Cracks in Zuma’s NEC”, reported that Zuma became angry at a national executive committee [NEC] meeting on January 8, saying NEC members were going behind his back.

The ANC complained that the report breached the following articles of the South Africa press code:

  • The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly;
  • News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts; and
  • Only what may reasonably be true, having regard to the sources of the news, may be presented as fact, and such facts shall be published fairly with due regard to context and importance. If a report is not based on facts, but on opinions, allegation, rumour or suspicion, this shall be made clear, and if there is reason for doubt on the accuracy of a report, it shall be verified, or it shall be shown that this was not possible

The ANC had argued that the words ”sources say” first appeared in paragraph five, with ANC comment in paragraph 11, and that readers may not have read that far to get to its comment.

A statement from the appeals panel on Friday said that editor Mathatha Tsedu received information from a member of the ANC NEC concerning an angry outburst by Zuma at an NEC meeting on January 7 2008.

Tsedu’s sources described the incident on condition of anonymity.

Tsedu briefed political editor S’Thembiso Msomi on the information and Msomi and senior reporter Sabelo Ndlangisa checked the information with their own sources.

Msomi spoke to three sources, all of whom were members of the NEC and attended the meeting.

Two spoke on condition of anonymity and the third, Blade Nzimande, the secretary general of the South African Communist Party, spoke on the record.

Msomi’s first source confirmed that Zuma had indeed expressed his anger and also confirmed that Zuma had later apologised. The second confirmed, in all material respects, the information given to Tsedu.

Msomi also received information from Caiphus Kgosana, a City Press parliamentary correspondent in Cape Town. He had earlier been requested to obtain comment from the ANC and contacted secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who denied that Zuma had said anything about ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe or its treasurer general, Mathews Phosa.

However, Mantashe confirmed that Zuma did refer to people gossiping and back-stabbing and back-biting. He also said Zuma had apologised to the NEC, but for using the word ”angry”, and not for being angry.

Ndlangisa spoke to three sources, all of whom were also members of the NEC and attended the meeting.

Two spoke on condition of anonymity. The third, Phosa, spoke partly on the record and partly off the record.

One of the sources confirmed the information, one denied it. Phosa’s on-the-record comments appeared in the article.

”Zuma never made those comments and the NEC of the ANC is united behind him … I feel humiliated to have to respond to this nonsense. It was expected that the leaders of the ANC will be rubbished,” Phosa told the newspaper.

On the basis of information given and confirmed, and in the context of information that was already in the public domain, Msomi and Ndlangisa concluded that the information given to Tsedu had been corroborated.

The article was approved for publication on January 27.

The ombudsman ruled that it ”takes much more than reasonable belief that a story is true to elevate it to being true”.

However, the Press Council Appeals Panel believed the ombudsman had erred and City Press‘s appeal was upheld.

Tsedu was not immediately available for comment. — Sapa