Deputy Press Ombudsman says Mngxitama article was in breach of the press code
George Annandale vs. City Press
Ruling by the Deputy Press Ombudsman
July 12, 2010
This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr George Annandale and the City Press newspaper.
Mr George Annandale complains about an article in City Press, published on April 11 2010 and headlined Blacks in bondage.
According to the complaint the article:
falsely implies that an ex-mayor, Mr Kabelo Mashi, was murdered by white rightwing extremists; and
is aimed at the propagation of racial hatred.
The article, written by policy advisor to the European Union's Foundation for Human Rights Andile Mngxitama, is about the latter attending the court appearance in Ventersdorp of two blacks accused of the murder of former leader of the AWB Eugene Terre'Blanche.
In the article Mngxitama says Ventersdorp is a microcosm of South Africa - racist, untransformed and supremacist. This, he writes, is due to the formidable influence of Terre'Blanche and his fanatical supporters in the area. Consequently blacks in Ventersdorp to this day live in fear, the story continues.
To boost his point, Mngxitama implies that members of the AWB were responsible for Mashi's murder and that they successfully managed to cover it up. The further implication is that the crime is still unsolved.
The passage in dispute reads like this:
"Until his death, Eugene Terre'Blanche and his gun-toting men were allowed to spread terror. Almost every black person who lives around Ventersdorp knows the wrath of the AWB. In 1997, a young black mayor of Ventersdorp, Kabelo Oupakie Mashi, a staunch member of the SACP, stood up against the bullies of Ventersdorp. He transformed budgets, cajoled the local criminal justice system to take racist violence seriously, and attempted to bring freedom to Ventersdorp. Mashi was abducted and murdered, his body left in the veld. Witnesses were openly intimidated and the murder remains unsolved. If a mayor can be killed for challenging white power and the perpetrators can get away with it, what chance do ordinary mortals have? Terre'Blanche had carte blanche to terrorise people." (emphasis added)
We shall now consider the merits of the complaint:
Mashi murdered by white rightwing extremists
There is little doubt that Mngxitama is biased - he sides with the accused ("I went to Ventersdorp this week in solidarity with the accused to ensure that they were not lynched") and he even ideolises them ("Then, as the first accused, barefoot like Jesus Christ, is pushed into the Casspir..."). He describes the crowds shouting ("Amandla! Hero! Hero! Hero!") as "a moment of total identification" with the accused.
On the other hand, he clearly despises the AWB ("They - the AWB - are ugly, cheap and fragile").
This is his right, given that the text is an opinion piece.
The article does not leave much to the imagination: It says Mashi stood up to white bullies; he got murdered; witnesses were intimidated - and the reason for the murder is because Mashi challenged white power.
Annandale says this is not true, as a court of law found that Mashi was murdered by Johannes Monatle. In November 2000 Judge van Oosten sentenced Monatle to 20 years for murder (after a confession) and 5 years for robbery. Furthermore, Annandale says Monatle killed Mashi because of illegal diamond dealings that had gone wrong.
This is the newspaper's argument: Monatle's conviction does not necessarily resolve the murder; his confession does not necessarily represent the truth. Besides, the fact that Monatle "may have implicated Mashi in ‘illicit diamond dealing' does not necessarily render this allegation to be factually true".
City Press adds that it is beyond dispute that Mashi's murder was controversial. It puts forward three documents to prove its point:
In the newsletter of March 1999 the ANC blames "the Third Force operating with an unknown agenda" for the murder. This was written shortly after Monatle's arrest.
An article in Beeld on September 14 2000 tells the story of 500 protesters who claimed that Mashi's murder was motivated by racism.
A web-page that relates Ventersdorp's history states that many blacks believed that Terre'Blanche ordered Mashi's murder and that the AWB had influenced the outcome of the trial.
In conclusion, the newspaper says the story around Mashi's murder is a legitimate debate and that City Press aired the different views fully.
A closer look at the following two sentences is important: "Mashi was abducted and murdered, his body left in the veld. Witnesses were openly intimidated and the murder remains unsolved."
The first sentence states three undisputed facts - Mashi's abduction, his murder and his body was left in the veld. In contrast, the following sentence presents two perceptions (intimidation and an unsolved murder) as facts. For our purpose the allegation about intimidation is irrelevant - but not so the statement that the murder remains unsolved.
In light of the outcome of the court case it was unreasonable and irresponsible for Mngxitama to present the allegation that the murder remained unsolved as the truth - without any mention of a source, not even an anonymous one, to back this up. If he had mentioned Monatle's trial and conviction in the story (which he did not) and then had said that there were people who were critical of the outcome of the court case, it would have been a different matter.
The phrase to the effect that Mashi was killed for challenging white power falls within the same category - again, there is no mention of the court case or the possibility that the murder was caused by a diamond deal gone wrong.
The newspaper's above-mentioned three examples to prove that the outcome of the court case was controversial must be interpreted in the same light. By all means: Let the court case be controversial - but then also mention the (factual) outcome of the court case in the name of fairness, accuracy and balance.
The newspaper's defence that the story around Mashi's murder is a legitimate debate and that City Press aired the different views fully is also not acceptable as only one view was aired "fully".
The Press Code (Art. 4.3) is clear: The press is entitled to comment, but it shall "...take fair account of all available facts which are material to the matter commented upon". This, unfortunately, did not happen.
It should however also be taken into account that, two weeks after the publication of the article in dispute, the newspaper did publish an article by James Myburgh, headlined Writer's view of Mashi case ignored facts. In this article, Myburgh states the facts of the court case in quite some detail. The newspaper did the right thing - it considerably balanced out Mngxitama's article.
Propagation of racial hatred
City Press denies that the story was aimed at propagating racial hatred. It says the pen-ultimate paragraph should be taken into account, where:
the story condemns Julius Malema's well-known rhetoric ("kill the Boer") as "reckless";
these words occur: "The ANC doesn't need to implore anyone to kill the Boer. It must simply use its political power to change things. The problem is not the white racists. It's the refusal of the ANC to use its political mandate to end racism"; and
the following sentence appears: "The solution to ending racism lies in ending the unequal economic power relations."
These words, City Press says, are not words aimed at propagating racial hatred.
Let's look at what the following two important documents say on hate speech:
In Section 16 of South Africa's Constitution it is stated that the right to freedom of expression does not extend to advocacy of hatred that is based on race or ethnicity and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
The South Press Code says the press should avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people's race, colour and ethnicity (Art. 2.1).
City Press says it did not intentionally propagate racial hatred.
This is probably true, especially when taking the pen-ultimate paragraph into account. Besides, the fact that Mngxitama obviously despises the AWB is not equivalent to him having advocated hatred or referred to their race, colour or ethnicity in a discriminatory or denigratory way.
Mashi murdered by white rightwing extremists
The article is in breach of Art. 4.3 of the Code which states: "Comment by the press ...shall take fair account of all available facts which are material to the matter commented upon."
Propagation of racial hatred
This part of the complaint is dismissed.
In light of the fact that City Press has already published an article to balance out the one in question, the newspaper is only directed to publish a summary of this finding. The newspaper should furnish our office with the text prior to publication.
Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, anyone of the parties may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be reached at [email protected].