13 October 2017

South Africa: BLF Ombud Complaint On News24 Gupta Leaks Story Dismissed

A complaint and appeal by Black First Land First against a News24 #GuptaLeaks story has been dismissed by the Press Ombudsman and an appeal judge.

The BLF, in its complaint, attempted to have the Ombudsman declare the story inaccurate because, according to them, documents from the Gupta leaks were not authentic and were merely hearsay.

News24 countered this by saying the Gupta leaks were authentic documents.

BLF's Andile Mngxitama complained to the office of the Press Ombudsman about an article by News24 published on July 24, 2017 headlined #GuptaLeaks: Gupta spin machine commissioned BLF's Mngxitama.

BLF said the story contained several inaccurate and unsubstantiated statements. The main one being the allegation that Mngxitama had met with members of the Gupta family and asked them for funding, and that the family had instructed him to write an article about BizNews editor Alec Hogg on their behalf.

He also complained that the News24 journalist did not afford him a right of reply.

BLF said the authenticity of the Gupta leaks remained in question.

News24 reiterated that the leaks were authentic documents.

In his ruling, the Ombudsman said that the question was not whether the allegations in the emails were authentic, and the article did not attempt to portray them as true.

Evidence

"The story merely reported (as fact) and consistently so, what the documents in News24's possession had said.

"The story did not say or imply that the allegations contained in the emails were materially true, it merely stated (as fact) that those allegations were made. It was left to the reader to decide whether what was said in the emails were true, or not," the Ombudsman said in his ruling.

The Ombudsman said that for this reason News24 was under no obligation to provide proof or substantiation as complained by Mngxitama.

"Given the above, a finding against News24 on this issue would amount to telling the media they are not at liberty to disclose the contents of the 'Gupta leaks' - which would be unthinkable in an open democracy such as ours."

The Ombudsman also found that the publication spoke to Mngxitama on the phone and sent him an email two days before publication - so there was no evidence News24 failed in its duty to ask him about the material issues covered by the Gupta emails.

He then dismissed the complaint.

BLF attempted to appeal the finding, particularly wanting them to rule that the Gupta leaks were not authentic.

"I submit that the Press Ombud erred in his intimation that I was wrong in responding to the suggestion by [News24 editor Adriaan] Basson that 'the Gupta leaks are authentic' with the contention that 'the Gupta leaks are not authentic'," said Mngxitama.

He said a rebuttal was necessary because if he did not deny the allegations then he would have admitted them.

Judge Bernard Ngoepe turned down the application for appeal. He reiterated the Ombudsman's original ruling, saying that the debate about whether or not the emails are authentic is irrelevant.

On the issue that Mngxitama was not given an opportunity to respond, the judge said the evidence that questions were sent to Mngxitama was overwhelming.

Source: News24

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