“This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, spokesman for the ANC (Eastern Cape), and those of Steve Matthewson, managing editor of the Business Day newspaper,” Ombudsman Johan Retief said.
The article was carried by the Business Day on March 12, with the headline stating: “Zuma packs electoral list with loyalists – alliance partners not snubbed despite ideological tumult.”
Sicwetsha complained the headline was misleading and it suggested, without any proof, that President Jacob Zuma had ensured his loyalists were on the electoral list for Parliament.
He said there was also no mention in the story of how he achieved this.
Sicwetsha argued that African National Congress members voted for each person on the list and Zuma did not compile the list.
Matthewson said the Press Code stipulated that headlines should give a “reasonable reflection” of the contents of stories, and does not ask for a literal repetition thereof.
Retief said: “Technically speaking, Sicwetsha is correct, one must be careful not to disregard the democratic processes within the ANC that preceded the compilation of the lists of candidates. I also need to keep in mind that Zuma is the leader of the ANC.
“In that sense he is not only ultimately responsible for what happens in that party, but he also must have a huge influence on what transpires, especially on something as important as electoral lists.”
He said Business Day was justified in its introduction to the story, which said that Zuma had strengthened his hand, and not that Zuma’s hand was strengthened.
“I submit that Business Day had some leeway in this regard, it was therefore justified in its reportage on this matter, which includes the headline (which was based on the intro),” Retief said.
He said the story did not say that the lists consisted exclusively of Zuma loyalists, only that they were “packed” with them.
Sicwetsha also complained that the story said Zuma had fired former president Thabo Mbeki in 2008, which Retief also dismissed, citing the same argument he had used in dismissing the first complaint.