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Newspapers News South Africa

City Press defends journo as ANCYL responds to ombudsman's findings

City Press editor Ferial Haffajee says her reporter, Piet Rampedi, has been subject to a general campaign of defamation by the ANC Youth League and its leader Julius Malema. This follows a media statement by the ANCYL (published here on Politicsweb) calling on City Press to take action against the journalist, following a judgement by the press ombudsman.
City Press defends journo as ANCYL responds to ombudsman's findings

Original complaint about five stories

The original complaint, filed with the ombudsman by Phuti Mosomane, the spokesperson of Limpopo premier Cassel Mathale, complained about five stories published at various times in the City Press.

The stories in question, "Pravin guns for fat cats - Limpopo first target in fat-cat fight" (14 February 2010), "Cadres - Finance minister orders investigation into corruption" (14 February 2010), Malema's "R140 tender riches - Nationalisation's frontman is a big entrepreneur" (21 February 2010), "Juju's dodgy R27m bridges" (28 February 2010) and "Revelling and rallying mix at Juju's big bash" (7 February 2010), related to allegations of corruption within the Limpopo provincial government and Malema's business interests in the province.

The case was heard in September 2010 and taken on appeal by City Press. The appeal has since been dismissed.

Found against one of five complaints in first story

On the first story, reporting on a probe into multimillion-rand tender processes in Limpopo which are "likely to suck in a number of top ANC and government officials doing business with the state," the ombudsman found against City Press in one of the five complaints lodged against the story.

The story, the ombudsman says, makes a national investigation (all nine provinces received a letter from the Treasury announcing investigation of malpractices) into corruption look like a local one focused on Limpopo. At the same time, it dismissed complaints that suggestions in the story - that the premier might be at the centre of the investigation or that the probe may extend to the Premiers cadres and friends - were unfair.

According to Haffajee, City Press was only aware of the one letter at the time of publication, and a call by her personally to the Treasury to ascertain whether other provinces had received similar letters, was dodged by officials unwilling to reveal the graft-busting theme of the upcoming budget speech. Haffajee says she has apologised to the premier of Limpopo if he felt singled out by the paper's reporting.

Elements of fourth story misleading

The ombudsman dismissed all complaints against the second (Cadres) and third (Malema's R140 tender riches) stories, but did find elements of the fourth story (Juju's dodgy R27m bridges) misleading.

The photo that accompanied the story was found to have been taken from an angle so that "it gives the impression that the bridge was damaged - when in fact it was not the bridge, but indeed the side of the road that was affected". City Press could also not prove that any bridges or roads did in fact wash away, as alleged in the story.

Another seven complaints against this story was dismissed, including allegations that local employees went unpaid, that work was paid for upfront and that the premier's office was aware of the problems on site.

Withdrew its claim

In the case of the fifth story, which alleged that the premier co-owns Mekete Lodge, the paper withdrew its claim, as it could not verify it.

The ombudsman found that "statistically, the bulk of the complaints against City Press are dismissed - yet the severity of the breaches of the Press Code should not be under-estimated" and ordered City Press to publish a retraction, which it just did after losing an appeal against the ruling.

In its reaction, the ANCYL, which continually refers to reporter Piet Rampedi as "the lousy Journalist Piet Rampedi," calls on City Press to take action against Rampedi as he "concocted stories to defame the President of the ANC Youth League and leadership of the ANC and government of Limpopo in a manner which is evidently unethical, immoral and leaves a lot to be desired."

Much aligned by the ANCYL

According to Haffajee, Rampedi has been much maligned by the ANCYL over the course of the last year, with Malema often leaving "mean and malicious" messages on Rampedi's phone. Haffajee says she has written the ANCYL to desist from public slander of Rampedi but this request has been ignored. The ANCYL has made itself guilty of selective reading of the judgement, which upholds two thirds of what the paper revealed, says Haffajee, and the ANCYL is acting victorious when it has little reason to be.

Haffajee says the paper has already upped the standards of the internal systems put in place to fact-check reporting, including a public editor, higher level editing of copy and access to engineers when writing on subjects related to infrastructure. She is also taking ombudsman judgements into the newsroom for discussion with reporters.

About Herman Manson: @marklives

The inaugural Vodacom Social Media Journalist of the Year in 2011, Herman Manson (@marklives) is a business journalist and media commentator who edits industry news site His writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines locally and abroad, including He also co-founded Brand magazine.
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