Home » Legal and Judicial Affairs » Peta’s Story Had Serious Omissions [analysis]

LAST week the Southern Eye and Bulawayo24.com carried a story headlined “Zimbabwean Journalists banned from working in Lesotho”.

The crux of the story was that I, Shakeman Mugari, and Abel Chapatarongo and Caswell Tlali have been “banned” from working in Lesotho.

A court had ruled that we should not work in Lesotho because we intended to “compete unfairly and unlawfully” against Basildon Peta’s newspaper, the Lesotho Times.

Our ‘crime’ is that we “connived and plotted” to start our own newspaper while employed by the Lesotho Times, a paper for which we toiled from its inception in 2008. To the judge that was reason enough to interdict us from earning a living as journalists in Lesotho.

I have no qualms with the Southern Eye, Bulawayo24 or any other newspaper for carrying the story. After all, they are only picking a terribly written story that had already been carried in Lesotho.

The story was published by the Lesotho Times, the very paper with which we have been having a court battle since September when we left as editors.

Peta wrote the story himself and quoted himself extensively as he tried to take a higher moral ground which he didn’t have and will never have.

It is clear from the story that Peta is now using his newspaper to fight his vindictive battles against us. This can be easily deciphered from the blatantly biased nature of the story. It is a fantastic piece of gutter journalism, a brilliant case study on how not to write a court story.

It was a hatchet job that I think Peta himself will be embarrassed about when he eventually comes back to his senses. And for sure reality will soon drag him back to his senses.

By not including our side in his story Peta flouted basic rules of journalism of balance and fairness.

He ‘forgot’ that just because a story is based on court papers doesn’t mean a reporter should not get both sides of the story.

It is a well-established rule of journalism that when you report a court case you must give fair coverage to all parties involved.

Yet I am not shocked that Peta can butcher basic journalism ethics with such impunity. He has always had a penchant for treating journalism ethics like some petty nuisances not to be allowed to get in the way of a story. Many will recall Peta as the journalist who fled Zimbabwe in the early 2000’s after he wrote two completely different stories on the same event in two newspapers. One of those versions turned out to be a fabrication that put even the most gifted spin doctors to shame.

Peta learnt no lesson from that embarrassing episode and continues to show no remorse. He merely grumbled and played victim.

I therefore understand why Peta was not bothered by ethics when he did the story about our case. To him the agenda of a story was more important than the facts.

If Peta had chosen to include our side of the story he would have written an entirely different story. He would have come up with a story that is fair and balanced but not so flattering to him.

Peta would have told the readers we told the court that we left his company because he was interfering with the independence of the newspaper to protect his other business interests. He would have mentioned that we resigned because he had given us an order, as editors, not to report about corruption in some ministries with which he was doing business.

True to his characteristic of selective amnesia Peta “forgot” to mention that we told the court that we left because we suspected he was not paying his fair share of tax in Lesotho. Our response to his court application also mentioned that we left his company because there were indications that he was externalizing millions of Rands to fund his other struggling company in South Africa. We didn’t want to be tainted by his illegal activities.

If Peta wanted to write a fair story then he should have mentioned that we left because he was treating the company like a personal piggy-bank. We were worried that Peta was deliberately confusing company coffers for his personal wallet while paying his workers late.

Peta’s story also failed to mention that we argued that his company was operating without a valid tax clearance. Instead of objectively reporting on the court case, Peta cherry-picked the details that would show him as a victim of “dishonest employees” hell bent on destroying his company.

Perhaps the biggest omission in his story was our assertion in court papers that he used false evidence to mislead the court. A few days before launching his court case against us Peta fabricated a document he called an Editorial Charter which had a Code of Conduct and Ethics which he said bound every employee at the Lesotho Times.

That document purported to prohibit any expatriate who had worked for his company for more than 12 months from working for any competing company in Lesotho for a period of three years. This fake document became the cornerstone of his court case against us.

We told the court that this document did not form part of our contracts and we had seen it for the first time in the court papers. We listed senior employees who had left the company before us and Peta had never tried to block them using the so-called Editorial Charter. Even Peta’s lawyer accepted during the hearing that this document was in dispute but the judge had other ideas.

It’s sad that Peta can crow so loudly over a victory acquired through deceit.

I believe Peta should be ashamed that his case was heard by a judge who was a lawyer for his newspaper before he was appointed to the Lesotho High Court bench. His lawyers were from the same law firm at which the judge used to be a partner.

The story also shamelessly omits a crucial fact that is the core of the judgment. Peta is at pains to give the impression that we have been banned for a year from March 19 when the judgment was made. The truth is that the 12 month ban starts from September 11 last year when he brought his case against us. So assuming that we are not successful in the Court of Appeal we will be left with just five months to launch our newspaper.

The idea behind this omission is to confuse the market before we start publishing. Unfortunately that tactic is not going to work because we are committed to launching our newspaper. If Peta doesn’t like it then he can go tell it to the mountain.

He has tried to use crude tactics to get us deported from Lesotho but failed. He is probably thinking of doing worse things to block us. The man is desperate. He is scared of competition.

Peta must stop his habit of blaming others for his problems and misery. He must start taking responsibility for his actions. He must change the way he runs his company or employ qualified people instead of appointing relatives into key positions. He must learn to live within his means and respect his employees.

More importantly, Peta must learn that every decision you make in life is a seed that will eventually be harvested. He is harvesting the fruits of the seeds sowed some years ago when he decided to run his company like a personal fief. It’s not our problem that his is a harvest of thorns.

Peta says the judgment against us is unprecedented. Well, not exactly. What is unprecedented is that a judge can stop anyone from earning a living based on cooked-up evidence. What is extraordinary is that a journalist can stop fellow journalists from working. The last time I checked that was a preserve of authoritarian regimes.

For months Peta has become a cry-baby and is lashing out at everyone he perceives to be an enemy. The result is that journalists are leaving his newspaper in droves. Three weeks ago a Zimbabwean editor who took over from us left the company after only eight months on the job.

It is now public knowledge that Peta will have to deal with liquidation proceedings against his company in South Africa. The pressure keeps mounting.

Peta’s story says I was bombastic and arrogant. What it doesn’t say is that he tried to persuade me to sell 10 percent of our company to him (that is in our court papers too). Astounded by his greed, I told him to forget it.

If telling a bully off means that I am arrogant then so be it. It’s not the same as being called a lying journalist who manipulates the truth.

Arrogance is a useful defence mechanism against bullies we meet in life. If you are using it to fight pathetic bullies like Peta then it is all fine.

And it’s not as if Peta himself is a humble man. He has just been humbled and is having difficulties adjusting to being rejected. I consider it a delicious piece of irony for Peta to call me arrogant and bombastic. My appetite for such hypocrisy is at an all-time low.

I just hope with time Peta will realize that one will never anything by listening to themselves speak. He must learn to listen more than he talks. That way he will learn useful things in life.

Peta is mistaken if he thinks everyone is going to suck up to him and love him. The world is not his friend.

Finally, Peta must realize that Lesotho is not his stomping ground. It is sad that he is using Lesotho’s judiciary to fight off competition.

While Peta has chosen to besmirch our reputation, we will not stoop to his level.

For now he must just know that he has a fight on his hands.

It’s a fight we might lose but that is a risk we are willing to gladly take.

Source : New Zimbabwe

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