THE press ombudsman has ordered the Sunday Times to retract an article based on a draft KPMG report on an alleged “rogue” unit at the South African Revenue Service (SARS).
The ombudsman leaned heavily on the Treasury’s disclosure this week that the KPMG report was in fact a draft in making his findings against the Sunday Times.
The newspaper said on Wednesday it would appeal against the findings including that had it breached the press code and against the sanction that requires the Sunday Times to print an apology to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay and erstwhile investigations head Johann van Loggerenberg.
Such an appeal will be processed by the South African Press Council Appeals Panel chairman Judge Bernard Ngoepe.
The Sunday Times maintained on Wednesday that its reporting was unbiased, and that it had “been sufficiently responsible and thorough in checking the validity of all information supplied by its numerous independent sources”. It also said it had no agenda other than to “uncover the truth”. This week has seen Mr Gordhan return to the helm of the Treasury and become the political head of SARS.
He became embroiled in the fallout from reports on the unit when it was alleged in the Sunday Times that the KPMG report recommended that his role in its establishment within the tax authority should be investigated as he “ought to have known” about it.
Mr Gordhan’s comeback could prove awkward for commissioner Tom Moyane, who disbanded SARS’s eight-member executive shortly after taking over amid accusations that the finance minister’s allies were being targeted.
One of Mr Gordhan’s first tasks this week as finance minister was a visit to the SARS office in Pretoria for a “brief meeting” with Mr Moyane.
Mr Gordhan served as SARS commissioner from 1999 to 2009, when the contentious unit was set up.
The press ombudsman’s findings and sanction provide impetus for further fallout at SARS, which has been mired in controversy for the past year over reports that an internal “rogue unit” had spied on President Jacob Zuma and ran a brothel.
Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said the panel could not ignore comments by Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas on Monday, when he indicated that the KPMG report on the SARS debacle was a draft.
Mr Gordhan had complained to the ombudsman about the Sunday Times article based on the KPMG report.
Mr Retief said the panel asked KPMG whether the report had been released or not, and was told that there were six drafts and the copy leaked to the Sunday Times was among the “earlier ones”.
Mr Retief was also told the final report had not been released yet. He said the panel had to therefore accept that the report on which the Sunday Times had based its story was a “draft and therefore that no statement contained in that draft was final”.
“This means that not only was the content of the stories inaccurate, misleading and unfair, but the conclusions in both the editorial and the sub-headline of the main story… cannot be correct, or were, at best, premature,” Mr Retief said.
Mr Gordhan’s dignity and reputation had been “unnecessarily tarnished”. The press ombudsman similarly relied on the standing of the KPMG report in the complaints against the Sunday Times by Mr Pillay and Mr van Loggerenberg.