THE Times has published a correction and apology following a ruling by the Press Ombudsman on a complaint by former director general in the Presidency Frank Chikane about a report that claimed he had tried to persuade former President Thabo Mbeki to step back from the race to lead the ANC in 2007.

The full trext of the correction, as published by The Times:

THE Rev Frank Chikane, who was director-general in President Thabo Mbeki’s Presidency, complained to the Press Ombudsman that on December 18 2007 The Times published an article — under the byline of Wally Mbhele, Ndivhuho Mafela, Xolani Xundu, Moipone Malefane and Mpumelelo Mkhabela — headlined “Mbeki spurns top advisers’ advice to quit the race with honour intact” in which references to him were not true.

Chikane also complained that the newspaper did not give him the opportunity to comment on the allegations before publication.

The story said Mbeki had rejected the advice of ANC officials who asked him to withdraw from the vicious race for the leadership of the ANC and avoid humiliation, as the overwhelming victory for Jacob Zuma looked increasingly likely. It said a source “close to the campaigning” had overheard a conversation between Chikane and then Minister of Public Enterprises Alec Erwin in which Chikane had said he had advised Mbeki to stand down.

The Ombudsman, sitting with the late Ronnie Taurog, a public representative on the Press Appeals Panel, and Peter Mann, a press representative on the panel, found that the story was another example of the reckless use of anonymous sources.

The source had told The Times he overheard a conversation, and the newspaper rushed to publish without making the effort to corroborate the facts.

A reasonable journalist would have questioned why an ANC national executive committee member and a Cabinet minister would discuss such a matter at an open lunch table where so many ears could hear them.

The journalist should have wondered if the source could have misinterpreted what he had heard.

The panel accepted Chikane’s evidence that he was too responsible a person to have said that and said it at such a place.

The panel rejected the argument by editor Ray Hartley that this type of writing is in the nature of political journalism and did not require the same tests as court reporting, for example.

Hartley said the Polokwane conference of the ANC was a charged environment and the story reflected that milieu.

In its ruling, the panel said: “It is particularly when the environment is volatile and tempers are high that journalists should take extra care in their writing.”

The panel found that The Times was in breach of the Press Code in that:

# it did not check if its story was truthful, accurate and fair; and

# it did not seek Chikane’s views before publication.

The panel ruled that The Times publish this abbreviated version of its decision and an apology to the Rev Chikane.

The Times accepts this ruling and hereby wishes to apologise to the Rev Chikane for the breaches and for any inconvenience these might have caused him.

For the full ruling please visit the Press Council website at

# The text for this correction was provided by the office of the Press Ombudsman