Beverley Pedro vs Die Son

Complainant: Beverley Pedro

Article: BENDE SE ‘LEADER

Date: 10 May 2012

Respondent: Die Son

This ruling is based on the written submissions of the manager of Life Mercantile Hospital (LMH), Dr Pedro Beverley, and Die Son newspaper.

Although the story was written in Afrikaans, the complaint was in English – I therefore respond in that language.

Complaint

Dr Beverley Pedro complains about a front-page story in Die Son on 22 February 2012, headlined BENDE SE ‘LEADER’ GEWOND – Trawante by hospitaal byeen om glo wraak te organiseer. This story refers to another one, on page 5, headlined ‘BENDELEIER’ BY SY HUIS GESKIET – Bende-oorlog in Helenvale gevrees.

Pedro complains that:
• the story incorrectly mentions LMH as the institution where a gang leader was admitted after a shooting; and
• it was unnecessary to reveal the name of a hospital when rival gangs can cause havoc there.

Analysis

The story, written by Leolynn Smith, is about an alleged gang leader, Mr Roland van Belling, who was shot and then admitted to the LMH (in Port Elizabeth). The story says that gang members gathered at the hospital and that there were rumours that they planned a gang war.

I shall now look at the merits of the complaint:

Wrong hospital

The story says that an alleged gang leader was admitted to LMH after he had been shot.

Pedro complains that this is not correct, as no gang leader was admitted to that hospital.

Son admits that it made a mistake. It says it got its information from a source in the police force close to the investigation. However: “We never questioned this, as this source has been very reliable in the past. Son thus regrettably never confirmed this information with the hospital.”

The newspaper apologises for this mistake and says that it published a correction the very next day; Pedro accepts this apology.

Unnecessary to reveal hospital’s name

Pedro questions the wisdom of the newspaper’s decision to mention a hospital’s name in the first place (whether accurate or not), as rival gangs can come into the hospital and cause havoc. She says: “Our staff and patients are being subjected to unnecessary risks, we had to arrange for additional security at our hospital, and all because of reckless reporting.”

Son replies that it was only reporting factually on the possibility of a gang war in Helenvale. It says: “Son felt that this was in public interest to be published, as it served as a warning to all residents of Helenvale – one of Son’s strongholds”.

Be that as it may, the newspaper’s response does not speak to the complaint itself. In her response to the newspaper’s reply, Pedro therefore asks: “…I would appreciate the ombudsman’s opinion on the publicizing of the name of hospitals where the information publicized could imply a risk to patients and visitors.”

These are my considerations:
• There is not a single clause in the Press Code that makes provision for an issue such as this one;
• The Preamble to the Code, however, states: “As journalists, we commit ourselves to the highest standards of excellence, to maintain credibility and keep the trust of our readers. This means…avoiding unnecessary harm…” This does open up the possibility of finding against a newspaper that unnecessarily endangers people’s safety and lives with its reportage. I can therefore foresee an extreme situation where a newspaper can be faulted for irresponsible and reckless reportage that unnecessarily led to or was likely to lead to harm; and
• In this case, however, I do not believe that the mentioning of a hospital’s name (whether accurately or inaccurately) potentially contributed to the worsening of the safety situation at the hospital – the story says that gang members gathered at the hospital to discuss a war, which means that gang leaders knew where the victim was prior to publication.

I am therefore satisfied that the newspaper was merely the messenger of information that the people in question already knew and that the publication of a hospital’s name could therefore not have contributed to a worsening security situation.

Finding

Wrong hospital

The newspaper already published a correction, and Pedro accepted the newspaper’s apology that it got the hospital’s name wrong. This part of the complaint has therefore been resolved.

Unnecessary to reveal hospital’s name

The story did not significantly contribute to the worsening of the safety situation at LMH, as that knowledge was already in the public domain. This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Sanction

There is no sanction.

Appeal

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

Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman