Chakabuda Law Firm vs TellZim (February 2017)

The Media Complaints Committee (MCC) received a complaint from Chakabuda Foroma Law Chambers on behalf of Makurira Memorial Clinic over a story published by TellZim in their newspaper edition 27th January-2nd February 2017 headlined “Masvingo General Hospital renal unit equipment stolen … five hospital staff, Makurira Clinic under investigation”.

According to  details of the complaint:

  • Chakabuda Foroma Law Chambers wrote to TellZim requesting a retraction on behalf of Makurira Memorial Clinic on 31st January 2017
  • TellZim subsequently published a new article on 2nd - 9th February 2017 which Makurira Memorial Clinic says carried additional misleading facts.
  • Makurira Memorial Clinic was not under any criminal investigation or any kind of investigation as stated in the publication
  • The complainant says they do not own a renal dialysis unit and have never built one as stated in the TellZim article
  • The complainant further states that TellZim did not seek to establish or verify with Makurira Clinic or Chakabuda Foroma Law Chambers the correct, factual position on the ownership of the renal dialysis unit 
  • Citing sections 4,5,7 and 12 of the media code of conduct, the complainants further argued that the article could harm their reputation; that TellZim  persisted with creating a further impression that Dr. P.S Makurira and/or the clinic could be shying away from potential criminal liability or any form of liability and that they viewed any remedy by TellZim outside of a retraction as not genuine and honest.
  • Makurira Clinic was therefore demanding a retraction and apology  from TellZim. The complainants further demanded that the retraction and apology be accorded the same prominence as the offending article.

 

Status: Resolved

The matter was brought for adjudication and TellZim was represented by its editor Passmore Kuzipa and the publisher Golden Maunganidze while Makurira Memorial Clinic was represented by Mr. James Wushe (who was accompanied by the company’s legal representative).

TellZim subsequently carried an apology and retraction in its follow-up story on the matter on 12-18th May 2017.

 

Background:

TellZim representatives Mr. Kuzipa and Mr. Maunganidze informed the Media Complaints Committee that they believed the second, follow-up story published by their newspaper had cleared issues of concern raised by the complainant. They further indicated that their story had quoted, as a secondary source, a representative of the clinic, a “Mr Sithole” who confirmed there was an ongoing investigation hence the institution had been given an opportunity to give their side of the story and that this source had confirmed that an investigation was ongoing. Mr. Kuzipa also further argued that a reasonable reader and an ordinary person in the street would not be able to make a distinction between Makurira Memorial Clinic and Agape Renal Unit as these are housed within the same premises and there is no signage that marks the distinction between the two institutions – hence the ordinary person walking into the premises would not be aware that there are two separate institutions operating at the Clinic.

The editor and publisher further argued that ordinary Masvingo residents are not aware that there is an institution named Agape Renal Unit as they have never heard about it. They also argued that they published a follow-up story instead of a retraction as a story afforded the clinic space to explain in greater detail important aspects surrounding the story which would not be possible in a short retraction. They therefore argued that while they did not speak to Makurira Clinic, they felt the secondary information quoting “Mr Sithole” was enough and that the police and medical director quoted in the report were credible and authoritative enough for the story to run.

In response Mr. James Wushe on behalf of Makurira Memorial Clinic said the institution was not happy with the follow-up story by TellZim as usage of the phrase “Makurira Clinic distances itself (from investigation)” created a false impression that they (Makurira Memorial Clinic) were in fact culpable and only trying to evade responsibility, which was not the case as they had never been under investigation in the first place. While TellZim indicated that they felt their story was credible enough to publish on the basis of information from the police and the Provincial Medical Director, Mr Wushe counter-argued that TellZim should have still corroborated with Makurira, as authorities can get details wrong. He noted that while a “Mr. Sithole” quoted in the article appeared to be speaking on behalf of Makurira Clinic, he (Sithole) was in fact a tenant of the institution. Mr. Wushe therefore maintained that while Agape Renal Clinic exists, the institution is a tenant of Makurira Memorial Clinic and it was therefore important for TellZim to establish this position through verifying with the Clinic and clarifying that Agape is a separate and independent entity to readers who maybe unaware of that distinction.  

The adjudication committee noted that while it was not in dispute that police and medical authorities had been quoted confirming there was an ongoing investigation, the information from “Mr Sithole” appeared to confirm that Makurira Clinic was under investigation. The committee however also noted there was no independent effort by TellZim to corroborate the story with Makurira Memorial Clinic as “Mr Sithole” appeared in the story as a secondary source interviewed by the investigating team.

While the Committee conceded that TellZim had a responsibility to establish the correct information with regards to the institution being investigated, they acknowledged TellZim’s argument that to the average person in Masvingo Agape Renal Unit is unknown and that there is no signage to indicate that the institution is housed as a separate entity at Makurira Memorial Clinic. The Committee also sought clarity on whether the Clinic had engaged and reprimanded “Mr Sithole” for ‘appearing’ to speak on behalf of their institution and therefore possibly bringing them into disrepute. In response Makurira informed the Committee that action was taken to engage Mr. Sithole. 

In light of the time lapse from the publication of the first article and arising issues from the meeting – it was agreed that TellZim’s follow-up story on the matter would incorporate an apology to Makurira Memorial Clinic and a retraction on allegations the Clinic was being investigated over the missing renal unit parts. TellZim duly published the apology and retraction in its 12-18th May 2017 edition.