Appeal Decision: Marie Aoun vs Noth Eastern Tribune

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Marie Aoun

Respondent: North Eastern Tribune

Matter No: 1288/08/2015

DECISION: APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

[1]     In its publication of the week of 7 August 2015, the North Eastern Tribune (“respondent”) published a story about a dog that was shot dead by the Community Action Protection security officer.  There were three parts to the story, and against which Marie Aoun (“applicant”) complained to the Press Ombudsman.   The one on the front page was headlined “Loved pet shot dead”.  The second one, on page 3, was headlined “Grieving pet owner speaks out”.  The third was the editorial on page 4: “Shooting to kill is not the answer”.

[2]     Applicant’s complaints, as summarized by the Ombudsman in his Ruling dated 10 September 2015, were that

l     the shooting of a pet does not warrant three articles; and

l   the story was told from the perspective of the owner, while largely ignoring that of the security guard”.

In his Ruling, the Ombudsman concluded:

“As the story did not mention either Aoun or the security guard by name, and the matter has already been settled between the owner of the dog and the security company, I have decided that I do not have any grounds on which to adjudicate this complaint”.

The applicant became dissatisfied, and has launched this application to get leave to appeal the Ombudsman’s Ruling.

[3]     I agree with the Ombudsman that as the matter has now been settled between the company (the employer of the officer concerned) and the owner of the dog, the matter should be left there. Nevertheless, while the first complaint does not, standing on its own,  warrant any comment, the second one does. In fact, the first one is connected to the second. Properly understood, the substance of the second complaint is that the reporting was biased in favour of the shot dog, as against the security officer; it was not balanced. It is not necessary to go into details as the matter is closed.  But there is substance in the applicant’s assertion that the story was largely told in a manner which solicited sympathy more for the dog than the security officer, as also from the point of view of the owner, as applicant says. The tenor of the reportage was that the shooting was not justified; yet the full facts were not known. I would be surprised if the newspaper were not aware that pitbulls can be dangerous and that people generally fear them, not without reason.   One cannot, of course, prescribe to the editor what they should write; but as a matter of fairness and balanced reporting, one wonders whether reference to that was not called for. The statement “Shooting to kill is not the answer” could also be presumptuous.  The entire reportage is not consistent with a possible concession that the shooting could have been justified; the sympathy was all piling up in favour of the pet only.  The reaction of the community which followed was, therefore, not surprising. Pets should be protected and loved, but our love for them may not blind us to the danger some of them may sometimes pose to humans.  But for the fact that the parties have reached agreement, I would have seriously considered granting the applicant leave to appeal to the Appeals Panel.  Even though her name was not mentioned, she was, as a member of the public, entitled to raise her concern about how the matter was reported; after all, the paper is meant for consumption by the public. The applicant does not, however, have reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Committee as the matter is closed between the company and the owner of the dog.  The application is therefore refused.

Dated this 17th day of October 2015

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel