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Ombudsman favours Molefe over Saxonwold shebeen story

Politics
Johannesburg – The Sunday Times has to retract and correct its report that says former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe "claimed" that he had been visiting a shebeen in Saxonwold, Press Ombudsman Johan Retief has ruled.

This comes after Molefe lodged a complaint about a front page article in the Sunday Times on 29 January 2017 headlined "From Saxonwold shebeen to MP – Shamed by public protector, Molefe is set for comeback". 

Molefe complained that the story inaccurately and misleadingly reported that he claimed to have visited a shebeen in Saxonwold – whereas, during a news briefing on 3 November 2016, he said: "There is a shebeen there, I think it's two streets away from the Gupta house. Now I will not admit nor deny that I was going to the shebeen."

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The Sunday Times has to retract its report that says former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe "claimed" that he had been visiting a shebeen in Saxonwold. Picture: Mlandeli Puzi

Molefe was responding to the Public Protector's "State of Capture Report" which fingered him in alleged corruption in relation to a multi-million rand coal contract awarded to a Gupta-owned company.

The Guptas' company, Tegeta Exploration and Resources, controversially scored a R600 million prepaid coal contract with Eskom after their company acquired Optimum coal mine, a coal supplier to the power utility.

Susan Smuts, legal editor of the Sunday Times, had argued that Molefe appeared to ignore the part of the story that quoted him and concentrated instead only on the statement which he claimed was inaccurate. "We submit that his failure to take the entire story into account fatally weakens his argument. The article must be considered in its entirety," Smuts submitted to the Ombudsman. "If there was any weakness in the way that statement is phrased, this is put to rights by the verbatim quote which removes any doubt as to what Mr Molefe said."

But the Press Ombudsman found that the Sunday Times had breached the SA Code of Ethics and Conduct which requires the media to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly. The Press Ombudsman rated the breach as a "Tier 2 offence", which constitutes a serious breach of the Code of Ethics and Conduct.

"If the Sunday Times said Molefe 'implied that he had visited the Saxonwold shebeen,' or even that he had 'hinted that he might have gone to the place', I might have decided that the reportage was justified," Retief said. "What was reported, though, was that Molefe 'claimed' that he had been visiting a shebeen – which he never did."

Retief directed the Sunday Times to retract the statement that Molefe had "claimed" he had visited a shebeen in Saxonwold, and to report his pertinent denial to this effect. He said the text should be published prominently on page two or three, online as well, if the offending article was carried on its website.

Eskom's interim group chief executive, Matshela Koko, on Wednesday welcomed the Press Ombudsman's ruling. "The Press Ombudsman's ruling is in line with our fervent calls for fair, accurate and truthful reporting," Koko said. "We hope this ruling will be a reminder to all media practitioners to report in a way that does not deviate from these central tenets of journalism."

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