Paramount emerges victorious in Vrye Weekblad case

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Aerospace and defence company Paramount has won a Press Council case against the Vrye Weekblad after the Editor of that publication was found to have contravened numerous Press Code articles in reporting on Paramount and its founder Ivor Ichikowitz.

On 19 June and 23 June 2023 Vrye Weekblad published two pieces by its Editor Max du Preez on the activities and actions of Ichikowitz and the role he played in the African peace mission to Ukraine that month.

The peace mission to Ukraine and Russia was facilitated by the Brazzaville Foundation along with President Cyril Ramaphosa, Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, Comoros’ President Azali Assoumani, Ramaphosa, and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. News of Ichikowitz’s involvement in the mission surfaced on 5 June when Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni shared a photo from a virtual meeting showing Ichikowitz and French businessman Jean-Yves Ollivier taking part in a conference with the African leaders. Ollivier is the President of the Brazzaville Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to conflict resolution and nature conservation.

Vrye Weekblad called Ichikowitz and Ollivier ‘shadowy billionaires’, alleged Ichikowitz was a ‘confidant of Putin’, that Paramount had factories in Russia supplying weapons to the Russian military, and speculated that Paramount may have loaded weapons onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R in Simons Town in December 2022.

Ichikowitz and Paramount were not contacted by Vrye Weekblad before the publication of the first article for comment or clarification, but they issued a statement that was published in the second piece, with further comment, Vrye Weekblad explained.

“Ichikowitz and Paramount were not satisfied and referred the matter to the Press Council, of which Vrye Weekblad is a member. The Deputy Press Ombud, Franz Krüger, ruled that some corrections be published. One such correction was that Ichikowitz’s grandparents had emigrated from Lithuania to South Africa, and not his parents, as Vrye Weekblad stated.”

The publication apologises, and also corrected the error that a company in Russia bearing the same name “Paramount”, specializing in imports and exports, was linked to Ichikowitz’s Paramount Group.

The Deputy Press Ombud also instructed Vrye Weekblad to correct the impression that Paramount sells Russian Mi-type helicopters in the United Arab Emirates and to make it clear that the company only sells “helicopter solutions”, parts and servicing, regarding these helicopters.

He further instructed Vrye Weekblad to correct and apologise for the statement that Ichikowitz is a “confidant” of Vladimir Putin. “Vrye Weekblad should also reflect Paramount’s denial that it collaborated with Russia on the Barys 8 vehicle which is an armoured vehicle produced in Kazakhstan with no links to Russia,” the publication wrote in its apology.

The complaint was referred to the Appeals Panel of the Press Council, chaired by retired judge Bernard Ngoepe.

The Appeals Panel ordered Vrye Weekblad to publish several additional retractions and apologies. These included refuting that Paramount weapons were loaded onto the Lady R and that an Ichikowitz co-owned gold mine helps fund the war in Ukraine; and clarification that no weapons were sold to Saudi Arabia by Paramount.

In its article, Vrye Weekblad stated: “Yesterday, speculation was that it might have been weaponry from the Paramount Group that was loaded onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R in December at Simon’s Town Naval Base.”

The judge and his panel rejected Vrye Weekblad’s argument that it had made it clear in the sentence in question that it was “speculation”, further supported by the words “it might have”. “Speculation should be verified in some way,” the panel declared.

Vrye Weekblad apologised and retracted the statement.

The Vrye Weekblad articles can be found here and here.

The Press Council ruling can be found here.