Press ombudsman reprimands ‘The Witness’

2012-12-17 00:00

THE Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief has reprimanded The Witness for not asking Celi Makhoba for comment in an article headlined “Official’s suspension casts doubt on Comrades doping tests”, which was published on June 28, 2012.

•The Witness reported that Makhoba, a doping control officer for the Comrades Marathon, had been suspended from athletics activities at an earlier KwaZulu-Natal Athletics executive meeting — pending the outcome of a disciplinary inquiry on allegations that he submitted claims for ghost officials who included friends and family.

•The Witness acknowledged that it should have sought comment from Makhoba and should not have relied solely on the views of Khalil Galant, of the SA Institute for Drug-free Sport, which is responsible for doping control officers.

Retief found that The Witness was in breach of Article 1.5 of the Press Code, which states that “A publication should seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication…”

•The article also said that this year’s Comrades winner, Ludwick Mamabolo, had tested positive for a banned stimulant and that the integrity of this process had therefore been thrown into question because of Makhoba’s suspension.

•Makhoba complained that the story attempted to link two unrelated issues and argued that this was defamatory. Retief ruled that this was not the case. He found that the article had quoted Galant as saying he was not aware of Makhoba’s suspension and that any allegation of this nature would impact on the integrity of the testing process. “I do not agree with Makhoba that the matters of his suspension and the anti-doping tests are unrelated — he was suspended from all athletics activities, and surely this was an athletics-related activity. Therefore, I cannot come to a conclusion that the story defamed him.” Retief therefore dismissed this part of the complaint.

•Makhoba appealed the finding to the Appeals Panel of the Press Council of SA. Its deputy chairperson, Neville Woudberg, decided on the papers before him not to grant Makhoba an appeal hearing. Woudberg found: “The Witness clearly took the complaint very seriously and has gone out of its way to accommodate the concerns of Makhoba, even going beyond what was required of them.”

•Woudberg said Retief had correctly reprimanded The Witness for not obtaining comment. However, he disagreed with the sanction that The Witness should publish Makhoba’s opinion on the matter. The Witness had already done this in a front page article on August 28 after Makhoba was exonerated by KZN Athletics . It was therefore unnecessary to repeat it, said Woudberg.

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