Daily Dispatch found guilty of contravening the Press Code but suffer no Consequences

By Irshaad Gangat

A complaint by Lumko Mtimde, in his personal capacity, was lodged against the article published by the Daily Dispatch with a headline – Ex-OR Tambo accountant gets 15 years for fraud published on March 26. Mtimde claimed that the headline was misleading and “deliberately brought the ANC and the name of the ANC President OR Tambo in disrepute.”

The article said a former project accountant of the OR Tambo municipality had been sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment after she had pleaded guilty to defrauding the district of over R9- million. 

Mtimde said that the story made it clear that the person in question was an accountant at the OR Tambo District Municipality and not of President Tambo himself – while the headline suggested that the latter as well as the ANC had in some way being involved.

Following the lodged complaint, the Editor of the Daily Dispatch, Cheri-Anne James inserted the word “municipality” in the headline to read, “Ex-OR Tambo municipality accountant gets 15 years for fraud” and Mtimde was not satisfied with this. 

Adrienne Carlisle, the internal Ombud adds, “This was a gesture of goodwill and not an acknowledgment that the Daily Dispatch was at fault. It is a matter of convention to shorten place names in headlines and we 2 intend to continue with that convention. We do not believe the reasonable reader would misinterpret the headline to be a reference to the respected leader who died almost three decades ago.”

Mtimde continued to call this response “insensitive and unacceptable.”

He said, “There is a big difference between the initial headline and the corrected version as per my complaint. I really thought that Daily Dispatch corrected this in appreciation of the problem and would easily do the right thing and apologise. But their response suggesting it was a ‘gesture of goodwill’ is a clear sign of arrogance and disregard of contravention of the Press Code. Worse to suggest I am an unreasonable reader to read OR Tambo as referring to OR Tambo is really proof of arrogance and caring less about readers. OR Tambo is very different to OR Tambo District Municipality.”

The finding concluded that the headline was in breach of Section 10.1 of the Press Code that said, “Headlines … shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report … in question.” 

However, the ruling by the Acting Press Ombud on April 3 said there is no reason for the Daily Dispatch to apologise as it is not believed the mistake to be deliberate. The mistake was corrected timeously and therefore there is no further sanction against the Daily Dispatch. 

NTU News asked Mtimde about the Press Ombudsman finding.

Mtimde remains unsatisfied saying that the Press Ombudsman finds the Daily Dispatch guilty of contravening the Press Code but in effect says there will be no consequences for the wrong done.

He said “This is what continues to encourage irresponsible journalism and threatens the media sustainability.”

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