In pursuit of fair, accurate reports

2011-02-03 08:22

This week the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) called for the head of one of our ­journalists, Piet ­Rampedi, for ­rubbishing its president, Julius Malema.

The ANCYL was reacting to our publication last week (page 4) of a finding by the Press ­Ombudsman.

The finding related to a 2010 series we ­published on Malema’s business interests (all denied) in Limpopo at the time.

Rampedi was called names and was this week banned from ANCYL meetings until, we were told, City Press takes action against him.

I told the ANCYL that newsrooms are ­generally run collectively and that if it wanted a head, it would be mine.

It is worth revisiting the ombud’s finding because I believe it has been selectively used by the ANCYL and the Limpopo ­government.

More importantly, I want to share with readers what we will do to ensure that we reach 100% accuracy and fairness. It’s tough, but I hope to get to 100% by June.

What we got right

» Complaint: We implied that Premier Cassel Mathale was guilty of corruption.

The ombudsman found that Mathale is the executive head of Limpopo – institutions are run by people.

Mathale is executive head of Limpopo and this may indeed mean that he could be at the centre of the investigation.

» Complaint: The stories implied that Mathale is the “leader of a gang that loots state coffers” (the premier’s words).

The ­reporting that the probe may extend to ­Mathale’s cadres and friends was fair, given Mathale’s position, his reported business interests and the awarding of tenders to people seen as his associates.

» Complaint: Our reporting suggests the tender system “is a ploy to plunder state coffers” (again the premier’s words). The sentences in dispute are merely references to what the newspaper has already reported on.

» Complaint: Our reporting suggests that the Limpopo government wants to centralise supply chain management. The article does not state this. Complaint dismissed.

» Complaint: Our reporting portrayed Limpopo as the most corrupt province in the country.

The story does not draw any ­comparison between provinces. Complaint ­dismissed.

»?Complaint: The premier’s spokesperson not available for comment. Complaint ­dismissed.

» Complaint: City Press reported that ­Julius Malema was given tenders worth at least R140 million by the Limpopo government.

The story clearly states that “various municipalities in Limpopo” awarded the contracts in question. Complaint dismissed.

» Complaint: City Press stated profit as R140 million. Story states this as tender ­value, not profit. Complaint dismissed.

» Complaint: We reported that local employees were not paid.

Reporter’s notes ­adequate. Complaint dismissed.

» Complaint: We reported that the Greater Letaba and Mopani district municipalities paid SGL, of which Malema was a director, upfront. Complaint dismissed.

» Complaint: We reported that some structures washed away within weeks of their completion. Complaint dismissed.

» Complaint: We reported that the Greater Letaba Municipality project was abandoned. Both City Press and Mathale’s spokesperson, Phuti Mosomane, could be correct.

The project could have been completed and handed over to the community, and several subcontractors could have abandoned their jobs (making the sentence in dispute acceptable). Complaint dismissed.

» Complaint: We reported that Mathale was personally aware of the Greater Lethaba problem.

Mathale complained that the ­problem was sent to the office of his predecessor.

The ombud agreed with our argument that public representatives should bear responsibility for what they inherit from their predecessors. Complaint dismissed.

» Complaint: The dispute about the length of a road. Complaint dismissed.

» Complaint: SGL appointed as contractor not builder. Even though “consultants” probably do not carry the ultimate responsibility for the construction, they surely do carry a part of it. Complaint dismissed.

What we got wrong
» Limpopo was singled out because we failed to establish the fact that Minister of ­Finance Pravin Gordhan sent a letter in ­November 2009 about supply chain procurement investigations to all nine provinces not only to Limpopo.

We apologised to Mathale for breaches of accuracy and balance.»?We used a front-page picture of a structure, called it a bridge and said it was damaged.

The ombudsman found that we used an overly dramatic picture, called the structure by the wrong name and should have said the road was damaged, not the structure. We apologised for this.

» We said “bridges” were washed away when in fact roads were damaged due to poor construction methods.

» We said Mathale co-owns the Mekete Lodge. We apologised for this failure of accuracy when the error was pointed out to us.

What we are doing about it
» We will work with engineers when we write about infrastructure.

» We will have a lecture to polish our ­accuracy skills.

» We will check ownership on property records before writing about it.

» ?I will ask to see the full range of photographs for stories on damaged infrastructure.

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