Ryan Coetzee's cheap shot - Cape Times

Newspaper asks DA to apologise for defamatory attack on reporter

Text of the Editorial that appeared in the Cape Times, May 16 2011

Cheap shot

AN outsider plunged into South Africa in the past weeks would surely have been bemused by the dismal tone of this election campaign.

Elevated debate has been rare. Cheap shots and mud-slinging have instead been the order of the day, with the ANC finding the perfect proponent in its Youth League leader Julius Malema (how much longer will his party allow its traditions to be undermined by his racism and poor taste insults of political opponents?).

The media has, as usual, also been pilloried for its supposed agendas.

By contrast, the DA appeared to have attempted to steer clear of playing the man instead of the ball. Until this weekend, that is. DA strategist Ryan Coetzee issued a statement, which was soon published online, in which he took exception to reportage by Cape Times reporter Babalo Ndenze (see here).

In essence Coetzee accused Ndenze of misrepresenting the facts about a woman who appeared in a television advert praising the DA for installing electricity in Tambo Square, Gugulethu.

It turned out that the woman in question did not have her own formal connection but was getting an electricity feed from a neighbour. An ANC councillor in the area called a press conference on the issue.

Ndenze duly reported on the claims and published comments from the ANC and DA.

We believe it was a balanced piece of journalism, but Coetzee, apparently responding to an amended version of the story used in a Johannesburg newspaper, accused the Cape Times and Ndenze of deliberately publishing inaccurate and misleading material.

This is an extremely serious allegation and, quite frankly, defamatory of the reporter in question. The Cape Times has requested of the DA that it correct the inaccuracies in Coetzee's statement - most particularly the claim that the journalist  "conspired with the ANC to create a story designed to discredit the DA's TV advertisement" - and apologise to Ndenze. But humility is not the DA's strongest suit, and we are not holding our breath.

Instead we would reassure our readers that we do not have a brief for any political party, and would not tolerate our reporters having one either.

Daily journalism is by definition an imprecise science, but we have made every effort to ensure that our election coverage has been fair and balanced.

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