‘Paper hid apology’

2010-08-18 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL Premier Zweli Mkhize is seeking legal recourse to force a KZN Sunday newspaper to post on the Internet its retraction of an article alleging that the premier’s family has landed “juicy tender contracts’’ from government departments.

Mkhize announced this at a press conference held at his Durban offices yesterday.

On February 21, the Sunday Tribune published a story alleging, among other things, that Bookize CC — a company belonging to Mkhize’s wife Dr May Mashego and their 25-year-old daughter Nokulinda Mkhize — had secured a R3,3 million tender from the Correctional Services Department (DCS).

Although Mkhize confirmed that Bookize did land a contract with DCS, he said the application or tender had followed all legal procedures, and there was no nepotism.

The article added that there were unconfirmed reports that “companies involving Nokulinda are raking in millions in provincial government tenders, including catering, transport for the media attending government events and communication work”. Mkhize denied this.

In the same article, it was reported that Bookize teamed up with another company to supply containers for sanitation and sewage treatment at Edendale Hospital. This was also denied and no proof was supplied by the newspaper, despite a request to do so.

Following the publication of the article, Mkhize lodged a complaint with the press ombudsman in March. In June, deputy press ombudsman Johan Retief ruled that some sections of the article transgressed the press code and ordered the paper to publish a retraction.

A retraction was published on July 11, but Mkhize said that although the newspaper posted the original stories on the Internet, it failed to do so with the retraction.

“Despite the fact that the newspaper used the apology to justify its discredited case, I was prepared to accept the apology and retraction in good faith and lay the matter to rest … All I asked for was the publication of an apology and retraction in the medium that carried the defamatory article, as I regarded it as a human error.

“The newspaper failed to do so as they … decided to ‘hide’ it on their website on only a section of their Internet …’’ Mkhize said.

Mkhize said he was originally advised to take legal recourse, but decided on the press ombudsman route, which he said is now “being blatantly defied by the newspaper”.

He could not be drawn on whether his wife and daughter are planning to sue the newspaper over the article, but said his family are assessing the situation.

In his ruling, Retief said that by reporting “unconfirmed’’ reports that Mashego and Nokulinda’s company is raking in millions in provincial government tenders, the newspaper breached a section of the code that stipulates: “The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.’’

“The Tribune should have attempted to corroborate this information and should also have published [Premier Mkhize’s lawyer’s] denial that Bookize had not procured any work in KZN.”

Retief added that the piece also breached another section, which stipulates that “where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be mentioned in such report”.

Mkhize reiterated that he is satisfied with the ruling of the ombudsman. “I have high respect for the office in the manner and speed with which this matter was disposed of.

“Our legal advice was that our case was strong and our prospects of success in the court of law were high. We chose to take the conciliatory route to give the Sunday Tribune an opportunity to correct what we believed was an innocent human error.”

THE editor of the Sunday Tribune yesterday said it is untrue that the newspaper refused to apologise to Premier Zweli Mkhize on its website.

“It is untrue that the Sunday Tribune refused to apologise to the Premier. On July 11, an apology on the article in question was on the website and published on the same day,” said editor Philani Mgwaba.

“Subsequently the original article was removed from the Internet.”

He added that he was not given time to respond to Mkhize before his press conference.

“I received a fax at 4 pm yesterday [Monday] giving me 48 hours to publish the apology,” said Mgwaba. “He [Mkhize] had already called the press briefing. He did not afford me the opportunity to respond.”

Mkhize said at his press conference that the Tribune “hid” its apology on a subscriber-only part of its website.“This, in my view, is dodgy, malicious and raises a lot of questions about the Sunday Tribune’s journalism ethics,” said Mkhize.

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