Vivian Reddy's complaint against M&G dismissed
The ruling is based on the written submissions of Reddy and the Mail & Guardian's Centre for Investigative Journalism, amaBhungane.
"Vivian Reddy and the company in which he has an interest, Edison Power Gauteng, complain about a front page story on January 18 2013 in the Mail & Guardian newspaper headlined Joburg's R1bn 'gift' to Zuma funder ... Evidence suggests a smart-meter tender was fixed to benefit Vivian Reddy's firm," said a statement issued on Friday by Johan Retief, press ombudsman at Print Media South Africa.
The story, written by amaBhungane's Lionel Faull and Sam Sole, is about the award of a R1-billion tender granted by City Power to Edison Power to install smart electricity meters for the City of Johannesburg. The article focused on the relationship with Reddy, the process related to the award of the tender, allegations about the tender process (score tampering) and pricing anomalies, among others. The story was accompanied by a brief account about Sicelo Xulu, who allegedly played a role in the process of the awarding of the tender, and a brief article about smart meters.
According to the ombudsman's statement, the company complained that the story created the impression that they had been corrupt; the use of the words "gift" and "present" in the headlines was "injurious" to Edison; the sub-headline was misleading; the pictures used as well as the caption showed bias and implied nepotism; and the timing of the publication was a deliberate attempt to put it in a bad light.
One of the instances in the story where corruption was implied read: "Evidence suggests that a hotly contested smart electricity meter tender … was manipulated to favour Vivian Reddy, one of President Jacob Zuma's key benefactors, information obtained by the Mail & Guardian suggests."
Reddy complained to say that it was well known that at the December 2012 ANC elections in Mangaung, the Gauteng region did not support Zuma's re-election as ANC president.
Reddy added that the story therefore "insinuates that the complainants were awarded the contract solely because of their relationship with the president".
'The tender was fixed'
The M&G said that Reddy did not complain about the decision-making process, "despite the bulk of the article comprising an exposition of the evidence which suggests the tender was fixed".
"What the article suggests," said the newspaper, "is that, on the available evidence, it is reasonable to raise a suspicion that the explanation for why the tender award process played out this way might be found in the relationship between Mr Reddy and Mr Zuma, or officials' own perceptions of that relationship."
The M&G also argued that the story did not allege corruption on Reddy's part: "There is no evidence for such a claim, and the story makes the point explicitly.
The ombudsman on Friday said: "After careful study of the story, and of the arguments on both sides, I have to agree with the newspaper. This is why:
- Reddy does not dispute a single fact in the story itself – he merely complains in general that the article implied that he was corrupt;
- While the story certainly stated that the tender was fixed, and that it was manipulated to favour Reddy (providing some possible evidence to this effect), the journalists on no account put the blame on Reddy for that situation – instead, they specifically stated that there was no evidence suggesting foul play on Reddy's or Edison's part; and
- There indeed may have been several other explanations for the awarding of the tender."