Johannesburg - The New Age has to apologise to Western Cape premier Helen Zille over an article that her provincial cabinet was dominated by white men, the press ombudsman ruled on Monday.
Johan Retief directed the newspaper to publish an apology on page two with a front page kicker referring to Zille and the apology.
Retief said the article was carried by The New Age on its front page on May 24 with the headline “Zille under fire over cabinet” and the sub-headline “ANC blasts majority white male composition but premier dismisses criticism as hot air”.
Zille complained that the statement that she appointed a cabinet dominated by white men was incorrect and misleading.
According to Retief, the newspaper reported that Zille had again been criticised by the African National Congress for appointing a provincial cabinet dominated by white men.
ANC chief whip in the Western Cape legislature, Pierre Uys, reportedly said the re-appointment of eight former cabinet members indicated Zille was not interested in serving the interests of the poor.
Zille's spokesman Michael Mpofu dismissed the accusations by Uys as “hot air”.
Retief said Mpofu explained that the new cabinet consisted of four white men, three coloured men, two black and two white women, including Zille.
Mpofu added that readers were left with the impression that Zille was criticised for being racist, Retief said.
New Age news editor Phatisani Moyo argued the article addressed the ANC's criticism of white domination.
“Even in the unlikely event that it might leave an impression that (Zille's) composition of her cabinet is dominated by white males, the article is a true and fair reflection of the criticism... against (her), which criticism is the essential element of the article.”
Retief said his impression was that the newspaper portrayed the information in the sub-headline as fact, instead of the ANC's opinion.
“If it was the latter, I should have expected the newspaper to have placed the words in question in inverted commas,” Retief said in his findings.
The sub-headline suggested racism, he said.
“I therefore believe that it was reasonable to read the text as presenting a fact, which would be in breach of the Press Code because, as far as I am concerned, it is not a fact that the cabinet is white male dominated, four out of 11 can hardly 'dominate'.” - Sapa