Last week Sunday the tabloid newspaper, Sunday World, published an article headlined “Zahara’s their maid – Sisters believe Nciza is ripping her off” in which it alleged the musician was broke as hell (my emphasis). It was after analysing the article that I realised something was missing.
This was the smallest mistake, you may argue, that was missing, one that I should have ignored. Well, I did not and I sure as hell could not sit and pretend the article was okay. It was not right and had to be challenged in that regard.
Although the article had sought comments from the recording company officials (Thembikosi Nciza and Sibusiso Leope) who it alleged had been “milking afro-soul singer dry”, and further quoting “two independent sources” and two women (Nomonde and Mbangedwa) alleged to be Zahara’s sisters – I found it unbecoming and unprofessional of Sunday World (or any newspaper for that matter) to extensively quote what I call secondary subjects yet failing to seek the comment(s) of its main subject. As a reasonable reader and media observer (in my own right), I was therefore inclined to believe the article had breached the South African Press Codes which the press – specifically Sunday World in this case – is subjected to and therefore bound by its regulations that say, among others, the press is “obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”.
I then wrote a complaint to the editor, Wally Mbhele and the journalist (Mduduzi Dlamini) that had written the report on 15 April 2012 expressing this perceived breach of the Press Codes. At the time the complaint was also copied to Avusa Media Public Editor, Joe Latakgomo. Unfortunately, only Dlamini and Latakgomo received the complaint because I had received the incorrect email of the editor. On Wednesday, 18 April 2012, I received the correct email of the editor to which I forwarded my complaint.
Here’s my complaint, in full:
Good afternoon Sunday World Editor and journalist Mduduzi Dlamini
I would like to put it to you that the article involving musician Zahara in the Sunday World newspaper on 15 April 2012 and headlined “Zahara’s their maid – Sisters believe Nciza is ripping her off” had breached the South African Press Codes and that the newspaper owes Zahara an apology. As a reasonable media observer, who, by chance, came across the story after a friend asked me to buy him a copy of the newspaper, the story was reported as news and fact. As a result, it breached several Press Codes. These include that the report:
- Was not reported “truthfully, accurate and fairly” in that only one side of it was reported,
- Was not presented “in a balanced manner”,
- Relied on sources which was then put as “fact”,
- (or allegations) were not verified with Zahara (the crux of this complaint) nor her comments/response sought by the journalist before publication,
- Had failed to prove on “reasonable grounds [to a reasonable reader]” that had Zahara been approached for comment, she would have “prevented (Sunday World) from publishing the report”.
There was further no evidence in the article that had she been approached for comment, the sisters (as sources) would have been “intimidated”. It is evidently clear from the original report that newspaper deliberately failed to contact subject (Zahara) for comment, or indicate that she could not be reached for comment and include that in the report – a clear breach of the Press Codes.
All these 5 points mentioned above – as requirements when reporting news according to the updated Press Codes – lead to one failure: that its subject, Zahara, was never approached for comment. Or as Press Code 1.1 states: “If the publication is unable to obtain such a comment (on whether Zahara is as broke as her sisters alleged), this shall be stated in the report”. This is a serious mistake in that Zahara was portrayed as “broke” – a claim she was denied an opportunity to deny or agree with – which can be quite damaging – and therefore a breach of the Press Codes.
At the time of writing this note (15: 43 PM, 15 April 2012) the original article online had not been amended/updated to include the points raised above.
In the end, I would like to know the following:
1) Whether you agree that Zahara is owned an apology by Sunday World,
2) Whether the apology would be issued on the front page where the first report appeared or elsewhere in paper and when this will be issued,
3) Whether Zahara was approached for comment in the first place,
4) If so, why her comments were not included in the report – a Press Codes requirement when reporting news,
5) Of(sic) if not approached for comment, why was this not done,
6) Who bears the ultimate responsibility in ensuring that the report was to have been reported “truthfully, accurately and fairly”,
7) Whether any action will be taken against those responsible for this breach of the Press Codes,
8) The impact this has or will have in similar future reports.
I look forward to your comprehensive response.
In his response, published in full below, Mbhele said:
Sunday World owes Zahara no apology. The story was truthful, accurate and it observed all the requirements of the SA Press Code. Your question as to whether an “apology would be issued on the front page where the first report appeared” sounds a bit ambitious.
You are free to contact either the SA Press Ombudsman or Avusa’s internal ombud if you are not satisfied with my response. Alternatively, as a media observer who shows some strange interest in this matter, you can also advise Zahara to approach the courts of law.
Except that Sunday World owes Zahara no apology, the editor also failed to justify why he took the decision he took and further failed to address the last 7 points in my complaint on which I asked for clarity.
As a result, I have since taken Mbhele’s advice to appeal to Latakgomo and I will keep you updated.
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