Anneliza Jerling vs The Herald

Complainant: Anneliza Jerling

Lodged by: Anneliza Jerling

Article:  Social media users defend ‘kidnap’ posts

Author of article: Riaan Marais

Date: 23 March 2015

Respondent: editor of The Herald, Heather Robertson

Complaint

Humewood community policing forum’s (CPF’s) Annelize Jerling is complaining about a report in The Herald newspaper of 12 March 2015, headlined Social media users defend ‘kidnap’ posts.

She complains that the newspaper erroneously quoted her as the person who posted a hoax on a social media page (Public Servants News Network – PSNN), saying that she had claimed a seven-year old child had been kidnapped, raped, and was later found dead in Gelvandale (Port Elizabeth), and that the impression was created that she was speaking on behalf of the CPF.

Jerling concludes that the report has caused serious damage to her relationship with various organizations working closely with the SAPS.

The text

The story, written by Riaan Marais, said: “Nelson Mandela Bay social media users who triggered a public frenzy when they posted what turned out to be a hoax information of a schoolgirl who had been abducted, raped and murdered, have defended their decision to do so despite not obtaining verification.” He added: “The Humewood community policing forum’s Annelize Jerling – a Herald GM Citizen of the Year finalist – put the report on PSNN.”

The arguments

Jerling says the original (Facebook) message was posted at 09:45 on the particular Monday by Mr Christian Beer of a towing company. Later that day he added another message, claiming the girl had been found raped and had passed away. Two hours later Beer posted a third message. “[H]ow on earth could [the reporter]come to the conclusion that I put the false report on PSNN? Did he check the PSNN page and could he not differentiate between a post and a reply to a post?”

She adds, “This irresponsible reporting by Mr Marais has caused serious damage to my relationship with various organizations working closely with the SAPS. As Unit Coordinator of the Victim Support Unit I am trusted with sensitive information and it unfortunately The Herald report had caused serious damage to my professional working relationship with members and associations.”

Robertson replies the story never stated that Jerling posted the original Facebook message on all social media sites, but rather on a specific page – PSNN. She was given credit for the update posted to the PSNN page as she was the first person listed by its administrator. “How she sent the information to the page via email, Twitter, a Facebook post, Facebook comment or a Facebook status is irrelevant as her name was used on the update which serviced the wider audience.”

The editor adds:

·         Two separate Facebook pages were involved in spreading the hoax – the first was Accidents and Traffic PE, where Christian Beer posted the original hoax; the second was PSNN, where Jerling posted an update. “For this reason, the audience of PSNN was presented with the idea that the girl was not only taken but also raped and murdered. This is according to Jerling’s source whose information she  admits she had not verified before posting”;

·         “Perhaps Jerling’s gripe should be with the page that used her name to present her comment as an update if she did not give them permission to use her name or comment in a status update. Note we contacted PSNN page’s administrator Prajay Ramjee who declined to comment”;

·         The Herald did not attach Jerling’s name to the story – the page that served the update to its audience did so. “This was already in the public domain. All The Herald did was put this information together in an article”; and

·         Jerling works for a community policing forum and this matter related to crime. “Of course we are going to link the two. Due to her own affiliation with the Community Policing Forum, her name comes with a certain authority which creates the impression that the facts she presented, although not verified, came from an informed source”.

My considerations

I have not summarized all the correspondence (from both parties), as some of it did not go to the heart of the complaint. The gist of Jerling’s complaint is that the story portrayed her as the initiator of the hoax, while she says that she merely responded to it. I shall focus on this issue.

For the record, this is what Jerling posted: “A little girl was apparently abducted this morning. I have NO confirmation but one source advised she was found, and seems she was raped. Someone else said she was found dead. As soon as I know facts will advise.”

I note that the story (merely) said that Jerling “put the report on PSNN” – after “Beer’s initial post” (my emphasis). From the story itself, therefore, it should be clear that Beer initiated the post, and not Jerling.

It is also true that she did react on PSNN.

Additionally, I take into account Robertson’s (valid) argument that Jerling’s post appeared on a separate Facebook page, with a different audience.

Robertson’s argument for linking Jerling to the CPF is also valid.

If Jerling has been caused any harm, she should not blame the messenger.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

Our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman