APOL­OGY

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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.

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