ANCYL vs the Mail & Guardian

The Deputy Press Ombudsman has ruled on a complaint by the ANC Youth League against the Mail & Guardian. Here is the ruling.

Floyd Shivambu (for ANC Youth League) vs. Mail & Guardian

Ruling by the Deputy Press Ombudsman

March 24, 2010

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Floyd Shivambu, for the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), and the Mail & Guardian.

Complaint

The ANCYL complains about an article in the Mail & Guardian, dated January 15, 2010 and headlined: ANC Youth League targets Mantashe.

The league complains that:

  • the whole story was concocted – the reporter, Mandy Rossouw, “did not speak to anyone from the ANC Youth League”; and
  • Rossouw did not contact the ANCYL for an official response.

The organisation says the purpose of the article was to drive divisions within the ANC.

Analysis

The story says the ANCYL was concerned about a hostile takeover of the ANC by the left and had therefore developed a plan to weaken ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe (who is also the chairperson of the SA Communist Party).


The article quotes unnamed “insiders” as its main sources.

Among other things, the “insiders” reportedly told the newspaper:

  • The first step would be to ensure that the avenues through which Mantashe could build support were closed down;
  • The organisation was disappointed with the way in which President Jacob Zuma handled the spat between ANC and SACP members.
  • At branch level the ANCYL has already started warning ANC members against the “rooi gevaar”, urging them to ensure that Mantashe was not returned as secretary general.
  • The ANCYL will ensure that Mantashe and other prominent leaders of the SACP did not get opportunities to speak at branch meetings.
  • The ANCYL will promote Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula instead of Mantashe as the new Secretary General (to be chosen in 2012).

Concocted

The ANCYL says the sources are not credible as no senior leader of the organisation would ever say that the Secretary General of either the ANC or the SACP would address any of the approximately 4 000 branches of the organisation. It says the quotes reflect a lack of basic understanding of the ANC’s organisational processes and structures.

The newspaper denies any wrongdoing. Editor Nic Dawes says that both he and Rossouw’s line editor, Rapule Tabane, are aware of the identity of the two sources used in the story.

Dawes told the Ombudsman’s office: “The sources to whom she (Rossouw) spoke are sufficiently senior, and sufficiently independent of each other to provide an accurate view of the true position within the organisation.”

It must be said that the use of anonymous sources is always a risky business – it tends to weaken the credibility of an article and it can lead to the press being used and abused. Therefore, when a newspaper uses an unnamed source (it should always be done as a last resort) it is required to verify the information by a sufficiently independent person and must also be confident that its facts are accurate.

The newspaper says it did verify the information, that the sources were independent of each other, and it is sure that its facts were correct.

It says the story was also borne out by subsequent reporting in other major newspapers.

The Ombudsman’s office did an internet search and found the following:

  • Two days after the M&G story, Times Live wrote that Malema had “declared war” on Mantashe by announcing the ANCYL’s intention to remove him from his position at the next party conference in 2012.
  • The headline of an article in Times Live (February 1) says Mantashe is a goner, says Malema – ANCYL publicly endorses Fikile Mbalula for top job.
  • On March 5, The Star under the headline “Vavi blasts gravy train” reports that Malema has come out in support of current Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula to replace Mantashe in 2012.

Even before the M&G story was published, several articles referred to tensions between the ANCYL and Mantashe (after Malema was booed off an SACP stage). Here are two examples:

  • Times Live (December 13 – Gwede faces Malema backlash) reports that the dominant view in the ANCYL is that Mantashe should be removed from his position in 2012.
  • City Press (27 December) – A guide to 2012: the next big fight mentions Malema’s name as being part of a power block that intends to oust Mantashe.

In light of the above, it is reasonable to conclude that the M&G story was not concocted — there were just too many stories in the media on the same subject.

Still, the ANCYL denies that Malema ever said that Mantashe will not be re-elected — according to the organisation, that statement is the interpretation of journalists and is merely an allegation by anonymous sources.

Another internet search indeed revealed that Malema was hardly ever quoted as directly saying Mantashe would be replaced in 2012.

However, the February 1 Times Live story quoted above reports that at the ANCYL national executive committee lekgotla the following song was sung: “In 2012, in Bloemfontein, we want Mbalula—” Malema is then quoted as saying: “The singing and dancing will tell you what will happen in 2012.”

The ANCYL has not queried this quotation with the publication.

We can therefore safely say that even if some of the reporting on Malema and Mantashe could have been journalists’ interpretation, not all of it was. The conclusion that the story was not concocted consequently stands.

Contact for official response

Rossouw says she regrets that she did not contact Shivambu for official comment. In mitigation, the newspaper says the sources were sufficiently senior and independent, and Shivambu and other ANCYL officials regularly indulge in ad hominem attacks on her.

The newspaper says: “Youth League officials have made it clear that they treat requests for comment from Ms Rossouw with contempt”

It concludes: “We are of the view that it (the comment from the ANCYL) would have left the substance of the story unchanged.”

The newspaper should indeed have contacted the ANCYL’s official structures as the story was about that organisation. The seniority of the sources is not the point: they were not the official voice of the organisation.

Finding

The complaint that the whole story was concocted is dismissed.

For not contacting the official structures of the ANCYL, the newspaper is in breach of Art. 1.5 of the Press Code: “A publication should usually seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication—”

Sanction

The M&G is reprimanded and directed to publish this finding.

Appeal

Please note that our Complaints Procedures lays down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, anyone of the parties may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal.

Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman

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