MEDIA LAW EXERCISE:
The Department of Correctional Services vs The Times (newspaper)
The Ruling by the Press Ombudsman
February 8, 2013
THE Department of Correctional Services, through its spokesman Logan Maistry, recently laid a compliant with the Press Ombudsman against The Times newspaper with regards to an article that appeared in the publication on the August 8, 2012, headlined: “MPs: medical parole a sham”. The article, authored by The Times journalist Thabo Mokone, was in regard to a variety of reaction from MPs to the medical parole application processes with particular reference of disgraced former police commissioner Jackie Selebi. The Department complained that the article was not truthful and accurate. The Department also thought the article was not presented in context and omitted material information. It also complained that the article did not present opinions, allegations rumour or supposition in such a manner as to indicate this clearly.
With arguments heard and deliberation with both the department of correctional services and The Times newspaper, the ombuds office presented its ruling on February 8, 2013. In the question of inaccuracy and untruthful reporting, the ombudsman said the department failed to pinpoint what was untruthful or inaccurate et cetera in the story. However, after analysis of articles in other publications reporting on the issue, the ombudsman voiced dissatisfaction with the article in question. The ombudsman did concur with the department that there was selective reporting in the story as some material was omitted.
In the finding, the Ombudsman dismissed the complaint of untruthful and accurate reporting. However, it was acknowledged that the journalist should have not omitted the material information and misrepresented the facts and therefore breached an ethical code. The Times were reprimanded and directed to publish a lengthy apology.
Both parties were made aware of their right to appeal the finding to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, within seven days of the ruling.
The Times did the basics of news reporting in reporting on an issue that it deemed being of public interest and also getting comment from the relevant stakeholders. However, what the newspaper failed to do was present the full facts, omitting critical information which would provide clarity as to why the parole board decided to grant Jackie Selebi’s application. Therefore, the department was at liberty to defend its reputation and decision.
Despite the parolee’s public stature, it is crucial that the journalist be objective in his reporting and present all facts and not withhold critical information that would jeopardise the board’s credibility at all times. I thought the finding and sanction were fair.