M&G won't apologise to Zuma after Press Ombud's ruling

2016-11-03 20:53
President Jacob Zuma. (File, City Press)

President Jacob Zuma. (File, City Press)

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Johannesburg - The Mail & Guardian will appeal a sanction by the Press Ombudsman that it apologise to President Jacob Zuma on its front page.

The Presidency lodged a complaint regarding a front-page headline and picture in the paper last month.

It was headlined “Zuma pals score first nuke deal – When debate still rages about the nuclear build programme, a tender has already been awarded to a close family friend of the president”. The story was accompanied by a picture of Zuma on the front page.

Presidency spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga, who lodged the complaint, said the picture and headline “were misleading and malicious and suggested corruption on his part”. They “falsely and misleadingly” implied that Zuma was involved in the awarding of a tender to billionaire Vivian Reddy’s son Shantan in an underhand or untoward manner, or that Shantan was awarded a tender because of his father’s supposed friendship with Zuma.

Ngqulunga submitted that the headline was misleading and malicious, as the reference to Zuma’s “pals” was used to cast aspersions on him and imply that he might have influenced the awarding of the tender to the Reddy family.

He said Zuma denied knowing Reddy’s son.

“Therefore the link with him in this manner is untruthful and malicious”.

‘He’s not my pal’

Zuma also did not regard himself as a “pal” of Reddy senior. He did not complain about the content of the story.

Former M&G editor Verashni Pillay submitted that the contract awarded to Shantan Reddy’s company was the first awarded by the Department of Energy since Cabinet approval paved the way for the initial phase of the nuclear build programme in December 2015.

Pillay said the photograph accurately illustrated an important thrust of the article, which was the relationship between the two men. She said photographs should be considered in context and not in isolation.

“Vivian Reddy is a well-known ANC benefactor of long standing, and his close relationship with President Jacob Zuma is extensively documented. He has also readily admitted to that relationship,” Pillay wrote.

The headline or story did not implicate Zuma in the awarding of the tender, she argued.

The Ombudsman found against the paper and said it was not justified in publishing its headlines and the picture.

M&G to appeal

“The M&G is directed to apologise to President Jacob Zuma for unfairly and without the necessary substantiation involving him in its story via its headlines and the publication of the front-page picture, thereby raising concerns about corruption without any proper grounds – and causing unnecessary harm to his reputation in this process.”

Current M&G editor Khadija Patel said they would appeal the ruling.

“This is a ruling against the public interest and as we unpick these networks of patronage more and more and the mechanics around it become important,” she told News24.  

“While we have great respect for the ombudsman and the work he does, we feel he erred in saying our article harmed Zuma’s reputation, no new facts were raised about the president.”

“We work hard to minimise our mistakes and we will apologise when we get things wrong. We find ourselves disagreeing with the ombudsman; we are in no way reluctant to apologise.

“Zuma will definitely be on our front page - but it won't be as a recipient of an apology,” Patel quipped.

Read more on:    press ombudsman  |  jacob zuma  |  vivian reddy  |  media

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