Is the Ziwaphi newspaper not supposed to take care and report news “truthfully, accurately, and fairly” as envisaged by the Press Code, asks the writer.
As empowered by the constitution of the country, the legislature through its oversight function monitors and oversees the provincial government. But the big and vexing question that the Mpumalanga provincial legislature will have to respond to at some point is, “Who oversees the overseer?”
This mind boggling question has remained a matter of serious concern following the publication of a sequence of misleading and misrepresentation of facts carried by a local newspaper with articles that seek to project the legislature as a corrupt institution.
In one of these articles, the legislature building photo is captioned as follows, “Who oversees the overseer?”
The legislature has long acknowledged that the media constitute part of its important stakeholders. In this context, the media is absolutely fundamental in the promotion and protection of good governance in a functioning democracy. Consequently, parliaments, including the Mpumalanga provincial legislature have a responsibility to ensure that media freedom in general and freedom of speech in particular are promoted and protected.
It is for this reason that the legislature remains committed towards working and building a professional working relationship with the media which is underpinned by “mutual respect”.
The legislature as a public institution and a representative of the electorate, therefore fully welcomes and appreciates the role of the media in contributing to the democratic project of the citizens’ “right to know”, especially in this current democratic dispensation.
However, the inaccurate, untrue and unfair manner of reporting demonstrated in the series of articles that Ziwaphi newspaper has carried over a sustained period of time is certainly a cause for concern.
Under the guise of what it projected as an expose’, in its last three publications, the newspaper has repeatedly carried articles which purport to expose acts of corruption and mismanagement at the Mpumalanga provincial legislature.
In an article, titled ‘AG Makes Damning Finding on Legislature Finances’, which appeared on the Ziwaphi newspaper, the edition of 07 to 20 October 2016, the reporter states that the “Legislature spokesperson, Ms Zamagambu Memela-Gamede, refuted the AG’s report…”.
This untrue, incorrect and unfair statement by Ziwaphi newspaper creates an impression that the legislature, through Ms Memela-Gamede who is the senior communication manager, refuted the findings of the Auditor General.
In the mentioned article, she is initially quoted as having said, “the insinuation (that legislature files are made to disappear) is unfounded and not true”. However, in the same article which was then published on News24, Ms Memela-Gamede was now quoted as having stated, “the insinuation (that legislature files were not submitted) is unfounded and not true”.
What should be believed in what appears to be a fabrication of facts by Ziwaphi newspaper. Is this newspaper not supposed to take care and report news “truthfully, accurately, and fairly” as envisaged by the Press Code?
The truth of the matter is that at no point did the legislature, through Ms Memela-Gamede, refuted the findings of the Auditor General.
The legislature accepted the findings of the Auditor General unequivocally and this position has not changed. However, what appear to be a deliberate fabrication and a distortion of facts by Ziwaphi newspaper is certainly a cause for concern.
It is also worth noting that, the newspaper had previously posted in its Facebook page an article about the legislature and simultaneously created a link to questions it posed and the answers the legislature provided.
This provided a reader with an opportunity to distinguish the facts in the article emanating from the questions and answers. However, when the article titled ‘AG Makes Damning Findings on Legislature Finances’, was placed on social media by Ziwaphi newspaper, this time around, there was no questions and answers link which would have provided viewers some avenue to somehow get a sense of the truthfulness of the article.
Is it possible that Ziwaphi newspaper deliberately decided not to include the link to the questions and answers about the article so that it can fabricate the facts to suit its own agenda? Is there something that the newspaper’s reporter wanted to hide from the readers? These questions are asked to essentially question the journalistic integrity of the newspaper and its reporter.
Even a cursory look at the questions supplied by Ziwaphi newspaper and responses provided by the legislature, reveal that the legislature did not refute the findings of the AG. What is concerning is the distortion of facts which is misleading the public. This sounds like a calculated and deliberate move in order to present the legislature in a bad light.
Having been privileged to have gained access to the questions supplied by the Ziwaphi news and responses provided by the legislature, one needs to set the record straight: in the set of questions, nowhere and absolutely nowhere, is the reporter referring to the actual report of the AG which he had illegally gained. Instead, the questions were based on hearsay that the legislature did not submit the files to the AG for auditing. The legislature’s response suggests this is not true because the required files were submitted.
Certainly, there is a difference between failure to submit and submitting late, and in the case of the legislature the latter prevailed, hence the AG findings in this regard.
For the record, Ziwaphi newspaper was very selective in its reporting and in the process failed to provide a balanced view of the story for the benefit of the public. For instance, it overlooked part of the audit conclusion in which the AG states that: “I believe that the audit evidence I have obtained is sufficient and appropriate to provide a basis for my audit opinion”.
Again, the newspaper did not even mention the AG’s opinion about the legislature which is as follows: “In my opinion, the financial statements presented a fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the Mpumalanga provincial legislature as at 31 March 2016 and its financial performance and cash flows for the year ended, in accordance with the SA Standards of Generally Recognised Accounting Principles (GRAP) and the requirement of the Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislature Act.
The Press Code commits the media to report news “truthfully, accurately and fairly”, and that news “shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional and negligent departure from the facts, whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omission, or summarisation”. In this context, it is believed that Ziwaphi newspaper might have failed to keep up with the highest standards of journalism.
In the interest of transparency and accountability, the questions from Ziwaphi newspaper and the responses from the legislature are laid bare in the legislature website for all to make their own views whether the report is genuine or constitutes malicious reporting.
The legislature as an institution of law making, oversight and public participation and involvement is open to scrutiny and it remains committed to the values of accountability and transparency.
Consequently, the annual reports of the legislature will always be published in the institutional websites and also be distributed in the local libraries in the province so that the members of the public continue to enjoy unfettered access to the report.
It is my belief that the public will be able to formulate their own views based on the report that is free from distortion and fabrication of facts which ought to be frowned upon especially if it can be masqueraded as investigative journalism.
*Masimula is the public relations and media liaison manager at the Mpumalanga provincial legislature.