The Press Ombud has dismissed a complaint by Deputy State Security Minister Zizi Kodwa over an article News24 wrote regarding his friendship with a man implicated in allegations of bribery at the state capture commission of inquiry.
"It is unfortunate that Mr Kodwa, who is accused of no wrongdoing, believes he has been unjustly tainted by the article, but the fact that he is a public figure must require some robustness, even if the scrutiny is sometimes unpleasant," said ombud Pippa Green.
The complaint by Kodwa followed an article by News24's Kyle Cowan about Kodwa's friendship with Papa Leshabane whom former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi claimed was the alleged bag man for alleged bribes to key officials to keep government contracts.
Bosasa has since been renamed African Global Operations.
Kodwa complained his privacy had been violated after pictures of him and Leshabane were found on Facebook and then published in the article. He felt he had been found guilty by association just because he and Leshabane have been friends for years.
He felt inferences in the article about their friendship suggested more, given he was also the head of the presidency at the ANC. He felt that doing "background" checks on friends was against his constitutional right to freedom of association.
Kodwa complained the article had led the reader "to a conclusion that suggests a corrupt relationship between me and Mr Leshabane".
News24 editor Adriaan Basson countered in response to the complaint that there was no doubt that Leshabane was a central figure in the Bosasa state capture allegations. Therefore, the relationship between himself and Kodwa was in the public interest. He denied Kodwa was found "guilty by association" because of the story.
Citing international and South African legal precedents, the ombud found that although the article was "not kind", it did not suggest any wrongdoing by Kodwa.
Kodwa had been given a chance to answer questions sent to him, in which he confirmed the two were friends, but nothing more.
The ombud found that the pictures of Kodwa and Leshabane were on the semi-public forum Facebook, which is commonly used by journalists to access information and that Leshabane and Kodwa were public figures.
She dismissed the complaint of the violation of the Press Code, and Kodwa has seven days within receipt of the decision to appeal it.