Johannesburg - The Star apologises to top metro policeman Mike Smith for a story headlined “‘A law unto himself’ – Former metro cops accuse top official of fraud, racism” (September 25), and retracts the article hereby in its entirety.
The story said Smith and his JMPD administration had been accused of corruption and racism by three disgruntled officers who claimed that they had been unfairly dismissed.
Smith lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman, after which a full panel of adjudicators found we were not entitled to publish unfounded allegations of these workers in the absence of any concrete evidence to even remotely substantiate their wild claims.
This was exacerbated by the fact that we did not obtain and publish Smith’s views on these matters.
Moreover, our reference to a letter of complaint to ANC general-secretary Gwede Mantashe created the false impression that Smith had been implicated in that document.
The panel found that our headlines and posters intensified the excessive and unnecessary harm that the story has already caused Smith.
We also wrongly attributed pictures taken by someone else to our photographer which, to the panel’s mind, amounted to plagiarism.
They said: “We note that the story began with Smith having been photographed doing shopping in full uniform without his cap – and ended up with an unbalanced story and the damning headlines and poster as detailed above. A mouse gave birth to a mountain.”
And added: “Given all of the above, the panel has no option but to underscore his sentiments when he said: ‘I have suffered prejudice in that my reputation and my integrity has been tarnished amongst my peers, family and friends. My character has been defamed through inaccurate articles in the printed media and on the worldwide web.’ ”
The panel expressed its sincere hope that this apology and retraction would go a long way in reversing the unnecessary harm that our reportage has caused Smith – who otherwise has a blameless record of 22 years of service at the JMPD.
However, they noted with appreciation that we had offered Smith a right of reply (an offer he refused), that we changed the headline for our later editions, and that we undertook to revisit our practice in attributing pictures.
The panel said: “We believe that these initiatives testify to the newspaper’s goodwill in this regard.”
The panel also deplored metro police spokesman Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar’s response, calling it inadequate.
“The JMPD should carry part of the blame for the unnecessary harm that the story caused Smith.”
Visit the press council’s website at www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.