Ombudsman rules against Weekly

2018-02-07 06:01
The front page article of The Weekly which landed the publication in hot water with the press ombudsman. The Weekly now has to place an apology to Volksblad on its front page.

The front page article of The Weekly which landed the publication in hot water with the press ombudsman. The Weekly now has to place an apology to Volksblad on its front page.

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The South African Press Ombudsman upheld a complaint by Volksblad about false, misleading, damaging and sourceless reporting by the Free State local government-funded newspaper The Weekly, owned by Letlaka Media, and dismissed a counter-complaint by The Weekly against Volksblad.

Volksblad’s complaint was about the article “Volksblad covert agenda exposed” (10 November 2017) by The Weekly.

In this front-page story, it was alleged that Volksblad harboured a racially-driven agenda against the Free State premier, Ace Magashule, and black business people.

The Weekly claimed that “white sources” in the provincial government had exclusively confirmed this to the newspaper.

The Weekly said that Volksblad’s reportage about the Vrede Dairy Farm, “where the former MEC for Agriculture and now Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was accused of unfounded corrupt activities with regard to the project”, also confirmed that information had indeed been leaked from inside the Free State provincial government to “the white media”.

The complaint in return by The Weekly was about a later Volksblad report about the controversial allocation of millions to Letlaka Media for websites by the Free State government.

The story “Ace gives R95 million for websites; Contract of R120 million now cancelled” (8 November 2017) two weeks later was based on a meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) of the Free State provincial legislature.

At this meeting, a report by the auditor-general (AG) was discussed. The AG pointed out (under “Basis for qualified opinion” and “Accruals and payables not recognised”) that R95 million had been paid out (as part of a contract of R120 million) for the development and maintenance of the Free State provincial government website.

The opposition had criticised this “fruitless expenditure” vehemently.

The Weekly alleged that Volksblad’s report confirmed the racially-driven agenda against the premier and black business people.

It also denied that R95 million had been payed to Le­tlaka Media for websites in terms of a contract by the Free State government under Magashule.

In its response, Volksblad maintained that documents it had obtained was proof that Letlaka Media was linked to Cherry Online Design, which had received the contract.

The ombudsman found that The Weekly had committed three Tier 2 breaches (serious breaches) in terms of the Press Code.

The ombudsman sanctioned that The Weekly had to apologise on its front page to Volksblad, because it had presented allegations of a “secret agenda” and “smear campaign against Ace Magashule” as factually correct on its posters, in the headline and in its story.

This was done by referring repeatedly to race, which created the impression that the alleged “campaign” was racially driven.

Volksblad was caused harm in the process.

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