Zille to appeal ombud ruling

2013-07-18 22:01
Atul Gupta (Leon Sadiki, City Press)

Atul Gupta (Leon Sadiki, City Press)

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Johannesburg - Western Cape Premier Helen Zille will appeal against a ruling not finding any "substantial fault" with an article The New Age published on employment equity in the province.

The Press Ombudsman had missed a "critical" point in his ruling, her spokesperson Trace Venter said on Thursday.

"[This] is that the source quoted by the newspaper provided incorrect facts on the content of [a Commission for Employment Equity] report, in particular, that our province had regressed when it comes to employment equity, when the exact opposite is true."

Zille complained that several statements in the story were factually incorrect and distorted, were written with malicious intent, and omitted key facts in order to paint her in a negative light.

The headline and sub-headline were also incorrect, she submitted.

This followed an article headlined "Zille fails race test - White males still dominate top jobs in the DA province".

The ombudsman ordered that the publication apologise to Zille over the headline. He however did not find malice as Zille had claimed.

The story emanated from a news briefing Zille held before the Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) released its latest report.

The ombudsman dismissed the complaint over the content of the story, saying he was satisfied the reporter had covered the salient points.

Exaggerate

Zille's complaint also did not specify what TNA omitted in its report.

The ombudsman said the story, written by Siyabonga Mkhwanazi, reported that Zille launched a "pre-emptive attack" on employment equity figures which the CEE was to release the following day.

In the story, published the day the report was released, figures reportedly revealed the province was going "backwards in terms of race and gender equity".

The complaints were submitted to the ombudsman by Zille's spokesperson Zakhele Mbhele. He complained that, according to the report, the province had regressed further and scored worse in just about every sector, especially in the province's civil service.

Mbhele said it was wrong to call the Western Cape "Zille's province" and that "Zille's administration" had scored badly.

He argued the CEE report had combined figures for both the public and private sectors, and that Zille and her government were not responsible for the latter.

The publication contended it was fair to conclude that Zille was launching a "pre-emptive strike" to rebut any negative findings in the CEE report.

Neither TNA nor the Democratic Alliance had seen the report at the time of writing and it served the public interest by publishing on the same day the report was released.

Zille was Western Cape premier, so it was justified in calling the province "Zille's province", the paper submitted.

The ombudsman accepted TNA's argument that the story adequately reflected that the CEE report's scope went beyond the Western Cape government.

Fly in the ointment

The story also "explicitly stated" that the figures referred to the public and private sector, and that it was clear information was from a "source".

But the word "source" in TNA's submission was the "fly in the ointment", the ombudsman said.

The report itself referred to sources, but in its defence to the ombudsman, spoke of only one source.

"Mkhwanazi should have reported that he had one source only (on the CEE report) and that he could not or did not verify his information with another source. He neglected to do so.

"Why did Mkhwanazi exaggerate? The most reasonable response to this is that he wanted to enhance the credibility of his story. This means at the very least that the use of the plural was not an innocent mistake," Retief said.

The publication was reprimanded for this. The editor Moegsien Williams could not comment on the ombudsman's ruling by mid-afternoon on Thursday as he had not read it yet.

Either party may appeal within seven working days of receiving the decision.

- SAPA

Read more on:    the new age  |  da  |  helen zille  |  cape town  |  politics
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