Johannesburg - The New Age newspaper has been mostly cleared with regard to its reports claiming that state money paid for a trip by expelled ANCYL president Julius Malema to London for the Olympic Games.
“The newspaper, indeed, merely fulfilled its duty to inform the public of these allegations,” Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said in a statement on Monday.
He found that one of the six stories - written by journalist Warren Mabona - did not meet the requirements of the Press Code.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula complained that the stories asked, despite his public denials, whether he had used state funds to pay for Malema's visit.
He said this questioned his integrity and falsely created the impression that he was a corrupt and unethical office-bearer.
Mbalula claimed that while some stories mentioned his denial, “the content still raised suspicion as to my honesty in this regard”.
He said the stories demonstrated bias.
The newspaper argued that it had been entitled to publish the stories as public funds might have been misused and Mbalula served in high public office.
The New Age submitted that the claims against Mbalula were reported as allegations and not as fact.
Retief said he was satisfied that none of the allegations were stated as fact, and that Mbalula's denials were published when and where necessary.
Retief dismissed the complaints against five of the stories.
He found that a sixth story, headlined “Lies, lies and more lies” did not meet the requirements of the Press Code.
“This story said that Mbalula's spokesperson continued to evade questions, and yet it also stated that “a web of lies continued to flow from the department's spin doctor when pressed on the matter,” Retief said.
“Firstly, it is difficult to understand how a journalist can come to the conclusion that there was 'a web of lies' when the response from the department was not forthcoming. How does one not tell the truth when one does not say anything?”
The New Age was directed to apologise to Mbalula for this. - Sapa