Cape paper forced into front page apology to Helen Zille over spook claims

The Press Council’s Appeals Panel has found in favour of Premier Helen Zille in a complaint against the Cape Times.

The Appeals Panel ordered the Cape Times to “apologise for and retract the statement that Mr Scheepers was “Zille’s Spook”.

The Cape Times repeatedly made false allegations (stated as fact) on its front page over the course of several months, beginning in November last year.

Premier Zille’s spokesperson Michael Mpofu, appealed to the Press Council’s Appeals Panel following an original Press Ombudsman’s ruling in favour of the Cape Times.

Despite the ongoing appeals process, the Cape Times continued to run repeated front page stories using the false and defamatory statement, including one occasion on posters deployed throughout the Metro.

Judge Bernard Ngoepe, Chair of the Appeals Panel, issued a ruling against the Cape Times, over-turning the original ruling by the Press Ombudsman.

During the course of the hearing the Cape Times was repeatedly asked what proof they had to justify their claim that Mr Scheepers was employed to spy for the Premier. The newspaper could provide no credible answer to this question.

The reason for this, Judge Ngoepe found, was that Scheepers’ company had never been contracted to spy on anyone but only to de-bug the phones of Western Cape Cabinet members. The Panel concluded that “debugging is the very antithesis of spying”.

The Panel also found that the Cape Times had used a single anonymous source “without testing the veracity” of the claims made.

The newspaper has been ordered by the Appeals Panel to:

  • Run a front page apology to Premier Zille and retraction of the story within 14 Days.
  • Obtain the approval of the Appeals Panel before publishing the apology.
  • To afford Premier Zille a Right of Reply in the same edition in which the apology is published.

Premier Helen Zille welcomed the ruling of the Appeals Panel.

“Judge Ngoepe’s ruling that the Cape Times repeatedly violated the press code brings to an end a long smear campaign against me and the Western Cape Government by this newspaper. While it has not been pleasant to endure the Cape Times’ ongoing malicious and false reporting, we welcome the Appeals Panel ruling.”

“We welcome the opportunity for Cape Times readers to finally hear the truth after the newspaper’s repeated attempts to mislead the public through false reporting over several months,” said Zille.

A second newspaper that used the phrase “Zille’s Spy”, Die Burger, corrected its report at the outset and printed an apology back in November 2015.

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Cape paper forced into front page apology to Helen Zille over spook claims