Ombudsman dismisses ANC complaint

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Johannesburg - The Press Ombudsman has dismissed a complaint about The Herald newspaper publishing contents of an email sent to its editor.

Mvusiwekhaya Sicwethsa, an ANC member and local government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane's spokesman, complained that the newspaper had breached the confidentiality of the email sent to editor-in-chief Heather Robertson, ombudsman Johann Retief said in his ruling, released in a statement on Saturday.

The email, which was sent on February 10, asked that the African National Congress be allowed to campaign in newsrooms ahead of the general elections.

The editor had declined this request from the ANC.

On February 11, The Herald published a story headlined “ANC bid to campaign in newsrooms shot down”.

Sicwethsa said he had stated on the email that the contents were confidential and that he had told the journalist telephonically that the request in the email was not “an official ANC response”.

Robertson denied that the email had asked for confidentiality.

“We assigned a reporter to write the story, when the reporter phoned, Mvusi sent a mail saying his earlier mail was confidential and we should not have written about it,” she said.

Sicwethsa argued that the reporting was in breach of two sections of the Press Code.

Both sections included provision for public interest, said Retief.

“I submit that his request to the press was indeed in the public interest, as the next general election was around the corner and the press had a huge influence in shaping its readers' views and perceptions - surely, the public had the right to know who tries to influence journalists' views and perceptions,” he said.

“Lastly, Sicwetsha's argument that he told the journalist telephonically that the request in question was not 'an official ANC response' also does not hold water.”

This was because his first email made it clear that the matter was official ANC business. The first sentence read: “The ANC in the province would like to visit your newsroom...”.

Retief said either party could appeal this finding within seven days of receipt of this decisions. - Sapa

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