Ombudsman Johan Retief, in a ruling released on Monday, said the complaint was about a story printed on April 22 this year, and syndicated across Independent Group titles, headlined “Reserve Bank ‘does endorse DA economic plans’ “.
“The DA complains that the story inaccurately stated that: the party were running a radio advertisement that the SA Reserve Bank had ‘endorsed’ its economic plan and had “agreed” with it…” said Retief.
“…And party leader Helen Zille said at a rally in Kroonstad that the Reserve Bank had ‘modelled’ its economic policy.”
The story stated that the DA was “continuing to claim that the SA Reserve Bank has endorsed the party’s economic politics, despite both the bank and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan rejecting the claims several months ago”.
This was even though DA leaders were careful to attribute the endorsement of their manifesto to “a Reserve Bank consultant”.
“The journalists claimed that the DA’s radio adverts ‘repeat[ed] the claims’,” Retief said.
“They also reported that Zille said at a rally outside Kroonstad that this consultant ‘did an economic model of the DA’s policies and stated it would lead to eight percent growth and six million real, sustainable jobs’.
“Gordhan reportedly said that the Bank had not endorsed the consultant’s ‘working paper’.”
The text of the advert included: “It’s clear that our country needs jobs. More jobs means less crime and a better life for everyone. The DA will carry out a plan that the South African Reserve Bank [SARB] says will create six million real, permanent jobs…”.
The ombudsman said the journalists also stated the advert said the SARB ‘agreed’ that the DA’s economic plan would lead to an eight percent growth rate and the creation of six million jobs,” Retief said.
Retief said the questions confronting him was whether the story misrepresented the DA’s position and, if so, whether it had likely caused it unnecessary harm.
While Retief believed that the story was technically inaccurate, he referenced an interview Zille had done with eNCA, which The Star had also cited, where she said: “We know we can get six million jobs if we have a proper economic policy that can grow the economy at eight percent per year.
“The Reserve Bank has modelled the DA’s policy and has concluded that indeed we can achieve eight percent growth.”
Retief said if Zille never said those words, he would have found the statement in the story to be essentially untrue and an apology would have been appropriate.
“However, I have evidence that she did make that statement. Even though the story inaccurately stated that the DA’s advert said the SARB had endorsed its policy, I therefore do not believe that this mistake may have caused it unnecessary harm of any kind.”
Retief said he had no evidence that Zille stated the SARB had “modelled” or “endorsed” the DA’s policy, at the rally near Kroonstad.
“The newspaper also did not provide me with any proof to this effect,” he said.
“However, even if it was inaccurate to have stated that she made this statement near Kroonstad, Zille had made the very same assertion elsewhere.
“I therefore again do not believe that this mistake was material and that it would have caused her or her party any unnecessary harm.”
Regardless of the above, Retief was concerned the journalists got the when and the where of Zille’s statement wrong on both occasions.
“This is a cause for concern, and should urgently be addressed by the powers that be at The Star,” he said.
“Secondly, if I ask the newspaper to correct the inaccuracies, the message would still be that Zille was on record as saying that the SARB had modelled the DA’s policy — which is exactly what the party does not want.”