CITY PRESS APOLOGISES TO BOPHELO BENEFICIARY FUND AND ITS SUBSIDIARY MVUNONALA AFTER THE PRESS OMBUD FOUND IT TRANSGRESSED THE PRESS COUNCIL CODE ON THREE OF THE 10 COMPLAINTS
In a story published on April 30, “At least R255m in mine workers’ cash lost in Amplats pension scam”, City Press reported that Bophelo Beneficiary Fund (BBF) had lost R255 million of mine workers’ money in a pension scam.
Mvunonala Holdings filed a complaint with the Press Ombudsman, arguing that by saying the R255 million was lost in a pension scam, City Press suggested that this had happened either through illegal misappropriation or through the unlawful squandering of funds belonging to widows and other beneficiaries.
It also took issue with the statement that it had “cooked” its books to conceal the loss; that it was not asked questions regarding the nonpayment of beneficiaries and that Amplats had launched an investigation into the matter.
It further said that by reporting that Bongani Mhlanga, Mvunonala’s founder, was previously employed by Mantadia, City Press created an impression that he had a questionable background. Mantadia was the administrator of the R1.3 billion pension funds that were lost in the Fidentia scandal in 2007.
Ombudsman Johan Retief and a panel of adjudicators found that City Press had unfairly reported the opinion or supposition as fact that BBF had lost R255 million, using the words ‘pension scam’ in the headline, and for neglecting to ask BBF about the alleged nonpayment to beneficiaries.
He further cautioned City Press for not specifically asking BBF about the amount of R255 million that was reportedly lost.
The panel said: “We are willing to say, though, that we do not blame City Press for being suspicious – in fact, we commend the newspaper for taking its role as a watchdog seriously.
“However, we also believe the newspaper took it one step too far, as the notion that the money had been lost was an inference or a conclusion – there indeed is no concrete proof that the money went missing. Therefore, the story should not have stated as fact that the money was missing; instead, it should have asked, ‘Where did the R255 million go?’ If satisfactory answers were not forthcoming, then the journalist could have proceeded to report the allegation that it was lost.
“While the panel is not saying the money is lost, we are also not saying it is not lost,” the panel said, adding that “what we are saying is that, at the time of publication, the newspaper was justified to ask the question, but not to state it as fact”.
“In other words, the panel is not in a position to decide whether the statement about the ‘lost’ millions was accurate or not; we can, however, say that to present a question or claim as fact, at the time of publication, was unfair to BBF,” the panel said.
City Press regrets the errors and apologises to BBF.
The panel dismissed seven other complaints, including that the company had not cooked its books and that it was unfair to link Mhlanga to Mantadia, which gave an impression that he had a questionable background.
Following City Press’ coverage, the Financial Services Board has since placed both Bophelo Benefit Services and the BBF under curatorship.