SA President Kgalema Motlanthe has formally laid complaints with the Press Ombudsman against the Sunday Independent and the Sunday World, writes Kenichi Serino for journalism.co.za.
"The president has instructed his representatives to make complaints to the press ombud," said presidential spokesperson Thabo Masebe.
Ombudsman Joe Thloloe confirmed that two complaints were made on Friday but would not describe the contents of the complaints.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â He did, however, refer generally to a press conference Montlathe had given in the past on the matter.
On February 8, Motlanthe told reporters in Cape Town that he would not file suit against Kelebogile Mmokwa.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Mmokwa, who had earlier been mistakenly identified as ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Lebo MakoeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢, is a 24-year old woman who had claimed to have a five-relationship with Montlathe during which she had his child.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â The president said that rather than go to court, he would take the matter up with the press ombudsman.
"I think I have more than enough on my plate to be dealing with that. I… will drop a line to the press ombudsman – he has the time, authority and responsibility to look into those kinds of indiscretions," said Motlanthe.
Media analyst and dean of humanities at Wits Tawana Kupe said that forgoing legal recourse in favour of the press ombudsman is a sign that Motlanthe is not interested in monetary compensation.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Kupe said that Motlanthe will probably not argue that his privacy was invaded but, rather, that journalists violated their own ethics in publishing the article.
Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œHe might say that the journalists broke their own ethics by publishing a story that wasnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t true,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â said Kupe.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThe ethical issue is they didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t check their own story and this is all false and if they did the checking which is what I good journalist is supposed to do, then this would not have happened.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
On January 25, Motlanthe was the subject of a news report in the Sunday Independent that he had fathered a child with a 24-year old woman, Kelebogile Mmokwa. Mmokwa is not Motlanthe's wife. More reports followed concerning Mmokwa, who was at the timeÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â mistakenly identified as ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œLebo MakoeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
MmokwaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s story was first reported on January 25th in the Sunday Independent. Mmokwa was not directly cited in the article, which used interviews with the womanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s co-workers, friends and family.
This set off a media storm that pulled in the Sunday World, the Sunday Sun, the Citizen, Kaya Fm as well as others.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â In several interviews she gave to the media, Mmokwa was evasive, and spoke in terms of a lover who was an unnamed ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œANC bigwigÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
On February 8, Sunday World published an interview with Mmokwa in which she claimed she had had a five-year relationship with Motlanthe and that her two-year old boy was the president's child.
On the same day, the Sunday Independent published a front-page article which, while not admitting its January 25 story was incorrect, was an interview with Mmokwa in which she admitted to lying to reporters about her relationship to Motlanthe.
Mmokwa excused her actions by telling the reporter: "I told you what you wanted to hear."Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œHow can a respectable publication publish a story from a person who is obviously crazy?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â asks Kupe.
Last Friday, the Mail & Guardian published an interview with Mmokwa during which the young woman, appeared to contradict herself.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Kupe said that he ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œcouldnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t make heads or tails of itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
Despite Motlanthe saying that he would not pursue legal action on February 8, Masebe said a week later that: "presently the matter is in the hands of the lawyers.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â We are still proceeding with the matter. The president will comment on the issue only when a conclusion has been reached.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
On February 8, the Sowetan, which publishes the Sunday World, said Motlanthe had demanded a retraction from the newspaper, following the publications of what he referred to "a series of furious and false allegations" about his love-life.
The African National Congress also spoke out on the matter.
"It goes to show a lack of objectivity, bias and an intent to harm the good image of respected leaders of the calibre of Kgalema Motlanthe. The ANC deplores this practice which gives journalism a bad name," said then-spokesman Carl Niehaus.
"We call on the press ombudsman and the SA National Editor's Forum to do an introspection into the unethical behaviour of some journalists and newspaper editors," said Niehaus.