Paper told to say sorry over Mpumalanga story

2012-07-23 14:37
(File, Duncan Alfreds, News24)

(File, Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The Lowvelder newspaper must apologise for a report which wrongfully accused the Mpumalanga government of corruption and financial maladministration, deputy press ombudsman Johan Retief ruled on Monday.

The office of Premier David Mabuza had complained about a story published on 25 November, headlined "A scary picture of an imminent meltdown in M'langa's finances" and "Province of the rising corruption".

The office felt the story deliberately created the false impression that Mabuza and members of his executive council were directly involved in corrupt activities.

The article, written by Christopher de Wet, stated that annual reports by the Auditor General (AG) painted a scary picture of a province approaching a financial meltdown.

It claimed that "damning" evidence of "gross mismanagement and maladministration" had been hidden away in hundreds of pages of portfolio committee reports.

Retief ordered the newspaper to print a front-page apology for a number of factual and reporting errors.

Key mistake

He said that De Wet had made a key mistake by consistently confusing the accrued total of "wrongful" expenditure over several years with figures pertinent to one financial year.

"He had also equated fruitless, wasteful, irregular and unauthorised expenditure with each other, while a clear distinction should be drawn between these issues - in total he misrepresented an amount of more than R1bn."

De Wet also confused the AG's report with the annual financial statement of the health department, mixed up provincial with local government and incorrectly concluded that "wrongful" expenditure boiled down to corruption.

Retief said the total amount misrepresented in the story was "mind-boggling".

"I am glad that I am not in the shoes of the people that the story wrongly accused of corruption. The amount of harm to their integrity and reputation is in fact incalculable."

The ombudsman said he did not believe De Wet's story amounted to deliberate, and therefore malicious, reporting.

"The mistakes that he made were too consistent for that, and the insights that he gained at the meeting seemed genuine to me."

Retief said that he was satisfied that De Wet had learnt from this experience and that he would indeed do better next time, "which is what my office is all about".

Read more on:    mbombela  |  media

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