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Ombudsman dismisses Pule complaints

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Independent Newspapers

Former Communications Minister Dina Pule. File photo: Neil Baynes

The Press Ombudsman has on Saturday dismissed three complaints made by Communications Minister Dina Pule against the Sunday Times.

One of the complaints made by Pule concerned the editor of the Sunday Times, Phylicia Oppelt.

Pule complained that Oppelt had acted unethically by handing over information to Democratic Alliance MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard and accused the newspaper of thereby having lost its independence in favour of the DA.

This led to Parliament's ethics committee investigating Pule.

Pule argued that the editor's actions raised serious questions about the newspaper's independence and its adherence to the Press Code.

“The Sunday Times is no longer just the messenger. It has become part of the story,” she argued.

The Sunday Times said it co-operated with the ethics committee and not with a political party, after it was approached by various members, including members of the DA, the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party.

The Sunday Times said it shared the information as the committee was constituted largely on account of its stories and because the findings of the ethics committee would be directly relevant to the stories it had published.

Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said in a statement released on Saturday that he had investigated the two stories that Pule had complained about and the circumstances surrounding the provision of information to the Parliament's portfolio committee.

NO DA BIAS

“I could find no trace of evidence that the newspaper has lost its independence in favour of the DA or that it could justifiably be accused of unethical behaviour in this matter,” he said.

The complaint was dismissed in its entirety.

Pule complained about a story published by the Sunday Times on May 5 2013.

She complained that the story falsely stated that attorney Ronny Bokwa had been her lawyer and that she had apologised to the Sunday Times after accusing it of a smear campaign.

She complained that the story said she had a “gratuitous” relationship with deputy director-general Themba Phiri.

Pule said the story said that Bokwa told Sunday Times that Phiri had instructed him to broker an “armistice” with the newspaper as they had wronged the publication.

Bokwa reportedly said that his perception had been that he had a mandate to apologise to the newspaper.

Retief found that the Sunday Times arguments on the matter were convincing.

“I also have no reason to believe that Bokwa misrepresented his position, as a motive for such a possible deception escapes me. This means that I believe that the Sunday Times was justified in reporting Bokwa's views as representing that of the department of communications.”

Retief dismissed the complaint in its entirety.

Pule also complained that a Sunday Times story published on April 21 2013 falsely reported that she had blown R2.6 million on a recruitment deal that led to the appointment of cronies of her boyfriend Phosane Mngqibisa.

She further complained that the story said that she had bypassed Treasury rules and ensured that recruitment firm Mindworx was awarded the tender without a bidding process.

Pule complained that statements made in the Sunday Times story conveyed a message that she had contravened or circumvented the law in order to enrich her alleged boyfriend.

Retief said the Sunday Times reporting was reasonable at the time of publication and he could not find loopholes or shortcomings in its arguments.

“Based on all of the above, I can only conclude that the newspaper's reportage on this point was fair and reasonable,” he said.

The complaint was also dismissed in its entirety.

Retief said that the Press Ombudsman was not interested in the merits or demerits of the allegations against Pule but only concerned about whether the Sunday Times was in breach of the Press Code or justified in its reportage. -Sapa


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