Reddy complaint against M&G dismissed

2013-05-17 13:01
Vivian Reddy.  (Picture: Felix Dlangamandla, Beeld)

Vivian Reddy. (Picture: Felix Dlangamandla, Beeld)

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Johannesburg - The Press Ombudsman has dismissed a complaint by businessman Vivian Reddy and Edison Power Gauteng about a Mail & Guardian article on a contract they were awarded.

"The complaint is dismissed in its entirety," ombudsman Johan Retief said in a statement on Friday.

Reddy and Edison had complained that the article created the impression they were corrupt.

It was published on 18 January 2013, under the headline "Joburg's R1bn 'gift' to Zuma funder - Evidence suggests smart-meter tender was fixed to benefit Vivian Reddy.

The continuation, on pages two and three, was headlined "Joburg's R1bn 'present' to Zuma".

They complained that: the words "gift" and "present" were "injurious" to Edison; the sub-headline was misleading; the pictures used showed bias and implied nepotism; and the timing was a deliberate attempt to cast them in a bad light.

R1bn tender

The story was about the awarding of a R1bn tender by City Power to Edison Power Gauteng to install smart electricity meters for the City of Johannesburg.

It focused on President Jacob Zuma's relationship with Reddy, the process related to the awarding of the tender, allegations about the tender process and pricing anomalies, Retief said.

It had a brief account about Sicelo Xulu, who apparently played a role in the tender process, a brief article about the smart meters, and pictures of among other, Zuma hugging Reddy's daughter Yavini.

Reddy submitted it was well known that in the December 2012 ANC elections, the Gauteng region did not support Zuma's re-election.

He believed the statement in the story that "no wrongdoing can be attributed to Reddy or Edison" was not a mitigating factor, as the impression of corruption was created, and maintained, throughout the article.

All references to the "relationship" between himself and Zuma were made "solely to sustain the impression of corruption in the award of the tender".

'Curry favour'

The M&G said Reddy had not complained about the decision-making process, despite the bulk of the article "comprising an exposition of the evidence which suggests the tender was fixed".

The publication believed that, on the available evidence, it was reasonable to raise a suspicion about why the tender award process played out this way. It said it did not allege corruption on Reddy's part, and made the point explicitly.

One explanation could be that officials may have been trying to "curry favour" with the powerful, without being prompted to do so.

"This is precisely the danger exacerbated by the quoted comments attributed to the president," said the M&G.

The ombudsman said this referred to Zuma's reported assertion the week before, that "wise" businessmen who supported the ANC could expect that everything they touched would multiply.

"After careful study of the story, and of the arguments on both sides, I have to agree with the newspaper," said Retief.

Article facts

He said Reddy did not dispute a single fact in the story itself, but complained in general that the article made him look corrupt.

Retief rejected Reddy and Edison's complaint that the words "gift" and "present" made them look corrupt and that they had done nothing for the money.

The newspaper reported that they had to supply the meters over three years, and accepted the M&G's explanation the words were not a fact, but an assertion of a benefit.

Reddy had not taken issue with the statement that he was a Zuma funder.

On the pictures, the ombudsman ruled the issue of privacy did not arise because they were in the public domain.

They were taken by a photographer working for another media company, and were part of a syndication arrangement with the newspaper.

"The assertion that the picture was used to suggest that Zuma awarded the tender to Reddy was not based on a reasonable understanding of the story," said Retief.

He did not deal with the complaint about timing as the Press Code did not cover this.

Either party had seven working days following receipt of the decision to apply for leave to appeal to the chairperson of the SA Press Adjudication Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe.

Read more on:    mail and guardian  |  press ombudsman  |  vivian reddy  |  tenders  |  media

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