News24

Paper 'must apologise to Kaunda'

2010-08-18 18:51

Johannesburg - The Times newspaper must apologise to Lakela Kaunda, the director general in President Jacob Zuma's office over an article it published on staff changes there, the deputy press ombudsman said on Wednesday.

A complaint to the ombudsman by Kaunda relating to an article on the same topic published by the Mail&Guardian was dismissed.

The complaint against The Times related to an article published on July 7 and headlined "Kaunda wins battle in the presidency - Zuma's top aide tightens her hold as two more key officials prepare to leave", deputy ombudsman Johan Retief said in a statement.

Kaunda felt the story was based on faceless sources who falsely portrayed her as a person who made life unbearable for colleagues and who manoeuvred to have them lose their jobs if they disagreed with her. She also said the newspaper had not given her an opportunity to comment.

She wanted the publication to produce "hard evidence" that:

- she called all the shots and rendered other senior officials mere passengers;
- former operations chief Jessie Duarte was referring to Kaunda when she said she was resigning because of bullies in the office;
- Kaunda was indeed a bully who forced others to leave their jobs; and
- people who challenged her authority at work were removed.

Retief focused on how The Times's information was conveyed in terms of aspects of the press code such as verification, sourcing and right of reply.

'Credibility eroded'

He found that several general statements such as "is said to have", "is reported to be", "allegations" and "it is widely believed", without it being clear where the information came from, were "worrisome", "sloppy" and eroded the credibility of the story.
On her complaint that the comment about her making life unbearable for colleagues was a "fabrication", and that faceless sources were used, Retief found that the independence of the two unnamed sources could not be established from the story.

This meant there was doubt that proper verification was done, in breach of article 1.4 of the press code.

The newspaper also breached article 1.5 of the press code by not asking Kaunda for comment.

He dismissed the part of her complaint about the comment on her "calling all the shots" as the story did not state this as a fact.

He also dismissed the part of her complaint on the comment about her "forcing other people to leave their jobs" because the report did not state she was a bully, but quoted sources.

However, he found that the headline elevated an opinion to a fact, in breach of the press code.

Retief dismissed the part of the complaint about the contention in the report that "people who challenged Kaunda's authority were removed", finding that this was not stated as fact, but mentioned "presidency insiders" as its sources.

The Times was ordered to publish a summary of the finding, to apologise to Kaunda for not giving her the right of reply and to give her that right if she wanted it.