New ombudsman ruling against Sunday Times

2014-10-28 10:51
Ronnie Kasrils (Werner Beukes, Sapa)

Ronnie Kasrils (Werner Beukes, Sapa)

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Johannesburg - A new ruling by the Press Ombudsman on Tuesday directed the Sunday Times and The Times newspapers to apologise to former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils.

This followed a previous order by the ombudsman for the newspapers to apologise after a complaint by Kasrils concerning the same stories.

"After a previous ruling, made on 19 September 2014, the content of the so-called spy tapes came to light, after which Kasrils withdrew his complaint and re-submitted a new one," ombudsman Johan Retief said in the new ruling.

"Unlike at the time of my first finding, I have now gained access to the content of the tapes by way of a transcript [which is why Kasrils re-lodged his complaint in the first place]".

Kasrils complained about a front page article published in the Sunday Times headlined "Spy tapes 'illegal' and expose Kasrils" on 7 September. The story was amended in the next edition and headlined "Tapes illegal and expose role of Kasrils".

Transcripts and tapes

A second article was published in the Sunday Times's sister newspaper The Times the next day headlined "I discussed NPA investigations - Kasrils".

The first article said the intercepted telephone conversations resulting in the withdrawal of corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma "were tapped through dubious and possibly criminal means".

The National Prosecuting Authority reportedly "discovered" this as it perused the tapes ahead of releasing them to the Democratic Alliance following a court order to this effect.

The journalist added that Kasrils was allegedly identified through the latest transcripts and tapes as "the mastermind behind most of the political manoeuvring at the height of the ANC's Polokwane leadership battle".

The second article, authored by the same journalist, stated that Kasrils was unmasked by the spy tapes as the mastermind behind the manipulation of the NPA, and admitted to discussing the NPA's matters with then Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy but he said it was all part of his duties as intelligence minister.

Kasrils complained that the newspaper falsely alleged he was the mastermind behind a political conspiracy to manipulate the NPA, without any evidence, by quoting unnamed sources without giving him enough time to respond.

Reputation

The reporting had damaged his reputation, said Kasrils.

Retief said the content of the spy tapes did not contain enough evidence to reach a justified conclusion that the sources used by the newspaper were correct in identifying Kasrils as the mastermind behind the plot.

"The headline to the first story as well as the content of the second article unjustifiably stated the views of the sources as fact," Retief said.

"This unnecessarily damaged Kasrils's reputation. In retrospect, after having studied the content of the tapes, even the mere allegation of him having been the mastermind were unnecessarily damaging."

The complaint about the content of the Sunday Times stories was dismissed "because the publication thereof at the time were based on what the newspaper had perceived as credible and independent sources".

The headlines, however, were in breach of the press code.

Malice and sensationalism

The complaint about the second story was upheld as it stated as fact that the tapes and transcripts "unmasked" Kasrils as the mastermind behind the manipulation of the NPA.

Retief found that Kasrils's reputation was damaged unnecessarily but dismissed the complaint about malice and sensationalism.

Retief directed the Sunday Times to:

- Apologise to Kasrils for stating as fact in the headlines that the spy tapes had "exposed" him as the mastermind behind the manipulation of the NPA, thereby inaccurately, unfairly, and unnecessarily harming his reputation;

- Retract the "mastermind" statement;

- Publish this apology and retraction on its front page, above the fold; and

- Provide the ombudsman with this text prior to publication, and end the text with the words "Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding".

The Times was directed to:

- Apologise to Kasrils for stating, as fact, the allegations that the spy tapes had identified him as the "mastermind" behind the manipulation of the NPA, thereby inaccurately, unfairly ,and unnecessarily harming his reputation;

- Retract the "mastermind" statement;

- Publish this apology and retraction on page four, above the fold; and

- Provide the ombudsman with this text prior to publication and end the text with the words "Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding".

If the story featured on both newspapers' websites, the apology should be made there as well.

Read more on:    sunday times  |  ronnie kasrils  |  johan retief  |  spy tapes

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