A Citizen newspaper article on ANC Youth League president Julius Malema escaping arrest was invented, the press ombudsman concluded on Wednesday.
“This sentence was invented by the journalist. It is therefore inaccurate and unfair reportage, causing Malema unnecessary harm,” said deputy press ombudsman Johan Retief.
Malema had complained about the article, which was written by journalist Musa Mohamed and published on October 31.
The Citizen admitted that the story was largely based on an earlier report by the Sunday Independent.
In his first complaint, Malema said the statement that he “reportedly escaped being arrested” by the Hawks when he “jetted out to Mauritius for a friend’s wedding” was false, misleading and damaging to him.
In response, Mohamed said he had based his story on the other newspaper report, but had wanted to angle a new story on the fact that after contacting the Hawks they would neither confirm nor deny an arrest.
However, Retief found that in using the police’s response as the angle it was not clear who “reportedly” said Malema escaped arrest or tried to — a source known to the Sunday Independent or the Hawks.
This could be confusing to the reader.
He said that after checking the Sunday Independent report he found no mention of the words “escaped being arrested”.
“The journalist sucked the phrase … out of his thumb.”
In a second complaint, Malema said the Citizen had also reported — based on the Sunday Independent — that the Hawks had uncovered incriminating evidence of wrongdoing against him and that he could be arrested.
He argued that Mohamed should have disclosed to readers that the information had been obtained from an anonymous source so that the information could be seen in context.
Retief found that since the Sunday Independent had quoted more than one source close to the criminal investigation into Malema, it was credible.
“The statement is indeed factually correct, as the story in the Sunday Independent does quote sources to this effect … not to say that the sources’ information was correct.”
This complaint was dismissed.
In his third objection, Malema took issue with a sentence that read: “The Sunday Independent reported that Malema had a case to answer, that he was to be arrested by the Hawks and was ‘likely to be hauled before a court’.”
He claimed that the statement was unsubstantiated and unverified.
“While Malema may be correct, there still is nothing wrong with the sentence in dispute.
“It does not say that it is true that Malema was likely to be arrested and hauled before a court; all it says, is that the Sunday Independent reported this information — which is true — whether the information is correct or not,” said Retief.
On the first complaint, the Citizen was directed to print an apology to Malema at the top of page three, with a reference to the apology on the front page. — Sapa