Whistle blowing policy
Justice concept with books. 123rf
On Wednesday, South Africa’s press ombudsman reprimanded the Financial Mail for its coverage of the Dentons report earlier this year.

According to the ombudsman, in its reporting the magazine had “brazenly veered off the South African Code of Ethics and Conduct, resulting in Eskom being cast in a negative light”.

Echoing the ruling, which found the Financial Mail in violation of a Tier 2 code, Eskom’s Acting Head of Legal, Suzanne Daniels decried the poor journalistic standards demonstrated by the publication. “Our democracy deserves proper media so as to make the correct strides to maturity. At Eskom, we have become the main victims for appalling journalism,” she said.

Daniels added: “Our view remains: Eskom did not sanitise the Dentons report; instead it made it public through a legitimate PAIA process, which required us to remove the names of third parties who had not consented prior to the publishing of the report.”

It is noteworthy that the company was not legally obliged to publish the report. The Dentons report was a voluntary journey to turnaround Eskom, which has resulted in the majority of the recommendations being implemented accordingly.

Reporting on Dentons findings

The Financial Mail was reprimanded by the ombudsman as follows:

  • For omitting to balance the “questions over the rationale for load-shedding” with a reference to what this “rationale” was – or stating that this was unclear, if this had been the case (after stating that “new questions [were raised] over Eskom’s rationale for load-shedding”).
  • For inaccurately stating that the following information had been “corroborated by the minutes”;
  • The information about the removal of names from the report;
  • That Dentons “had to be convinced” to write a letter stating that it had found no wrongdoing against anyone; and
  • For reporting the following accusation as fact: “Senior executives handpicked suppliers they wished to negotiate with, which meant that other, more capable and more cost-effective contractors were excluded.”

“It is curious that this verdict stems from the coverage which was generated from the Dentons report; a report which resulted in major negativity for Eskom. As stated before, Financial Mail departed the acceptable journalistic standards to cause major harm to the name of Eskom,” explained Daniels. [Read more: Eskom makes gains from Dentons’ report]

In his findings, the Press Ombudsman, Johan Retief, stated: “News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by…material omissions…The media shall take care to report news…accurately….”

Fake news in South Africa

“Realising that the Financial Mail had wantonly deviated from the correct ethics, we decided to approach the Press Ombudsman directly; a few other media have since been identified. Seeking to extract a retraction from the same magazine was considered ineffective under the circumstances,” explained Daniels.

Following the investigation, Retief has ordered the Financial Mail to publish the reprimands:

  • on the same page as that used for the original offending article;
  • online as well, if the offending article was carried on its website;
  • start with the reprimand in the article;
  • refer to the complaint that was lodged with the Press Ombudsman office;
  • end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”; and
  • be approved by the Press Ombudsman.

Retief added that the headline should properly reflect the content of the text. “A headline such as ‘Matter of Fact’, or something similar, is not acceptable,” he said.

“We value the sanctity of our democratic principles, which include the freedom of the media. And we will continue to work jointly with responsible media. Equally, Eskom will continue to challenge malicious reports without fail,” stated Daniels.

 

Featured image: 123rf

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Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl has been working in the African power, energy and water sectors since 2011, first with African Utility Week and now as the Editor of ESI Africa. She is also an Advisory Board member of the Global and African Power & Energy Elites publications. With her passion for sustainable business and placing African countries on the international stage, Nicolette takes a keen interest in current affairs and technology trends.