Appeal Decision: Jeff Rudin vs Business Day

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Jeff Ridin

Respondent: Business Day

Matter No: 1326/09/2015

DECISION: APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

[1]     In its edition of 31 August 2015, Business Day (“respondent”) published a story headlined “‘Gazillions’ at stakes in coal-fired clash”.  The story was about a conference going to take place in December on the issue of coal burning or the emission of carbon in relation to the debate on climate change.  One school of thought, apparently supported by the majority of scientists, holds the view that coal burning raises carbon dioxide levels, leading to global warming and resultant high temperatures. The other group has a contrary view; they contend that the rising of temperatures cannot be solely be ascribed to the burning of coal.  The story predicted a heated debate at the conference between members of these two schools of thought.

[2]     Mr Jeffrey Rudin (“applicant), lodged a complaint with the office of the Press Ombudsman against the story. Applicant’s complaint is that the story promotes or support the opposite group. He complaints: “Much more serious is the accusation (both explicit and implicit) that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by opportunistic academics and NGO’s for funding purposes. At the very least, fairness demands that the hoaxed….and/or….hoaxers be given an opportunity to comment.”  Paraphrased, the complaints are:

2.1    respondent gave prominence or support to “bald assertions” that the claim of climate change due to high emissions of carbon is not true; it is propagated by a number of scientists for the purpose of attracting funds;

2.2    the South African Government or any of its scientists were not given the opportunity to respond;

2.3    The reportage was unfairly done.

The applicant then referred to a number of articles in the Press Code which he says were breached.  He, however, declined an offer from the respondent that it was prepared to publish his counter letter of some 250 words.

[3]     The respondent’s response to the complaints is that the article was not a hard news piece.  It merely “reflected some of the debate that is raging ahead of the global climate change talks in Paris in December.  It talks about a global ‘war’ on the use of coal and sets out some of the issues that have been debated for many years”. The article was one of many to be written ahead of the talks in December.  I chose to reproduce the above statement by the respondent because it is really the foundation of respondent’s defence; for example,  respondent argues that the alleged hoaxed and hoaxers will have the opportunity to present their views at the conference and the argument that they were not given the opportunity to comment cannot stand.  What was written was not a definitive article.  Respondent goes on to say differing “views have in the past been given space in our publications and will be given more space in future”.

[4]     In his Ruling dated 21 September 2015, the Ombudsman dismissed the applicant’s complaint in its entirety.  He states that there are conflicting opinions on the issue of climate change, but that a newspaper cannot in every report give all the views.  He found that balance was brought to the report.  In future, other views would be reported, as promised by the editor.  The fact that applicant was offered the opportunity to respond, which he declined, is also relevant.  I do not find any ground to say that there is a reasonable prospect that the applicant will succeed before the Appeals Panel.  By all accounts, it is clear from the article that the debate is an ongoing one and there is no basis for concluding that opposing views would not be reflected.

[5]     For the reasons given above, leave to appeal is refused.

Dated this 23rd day of October 2015

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel

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