Coert Coetzee vs Finweek

Complainant: Coert Coetzee

Lodged by: Coert Coetzee

Article: Controversial Treoc rides again, or does it?

Author of article: Kristia van Heerden

Date: 11 July 2014

Respondent: Finweek

Complaint

Coetzee is complaining about an article published in Finweek of 5 June 2014, headlined Controversial Treoc rides again, or does it?

He says that the publication obtained its information illegally.

The text

The article, written by Kristia van Heerden, was about the liquidation of Treoc Capital. She asked whether Treoc International was running a pyramid scheme.

Analysis

In his response to Finweek’s reply to his complaint, Coetzee adds some new dimensions to his case. I cannot entertain these additions, as that would be unfair to the magazine (because it did not have an opportunity to defend itself against the additions, and there has to be a cut-off point at some stage of proceedings). Therefore, I confine myself to the original complaint, as outlined above.

Coetzee says that Section 417(7) of the Companies Act of 2008 provided for the information to be kept confidential. He argues that Van Heerden quoted from a private and confidential inquiry – the master of the court had not given any direction that the inquiry could be treated in a way other than private and confidential.

Finweek replies that it has derived its information from public sources and adds that the data were in the public domain (for years now). Kempen also argues that the purpose of Section 417(7) “is not to protect him but to keep secret from the complainant during the examination [of]the information…to ensure that the process of the examination is not defeated”.

The editor adds that the reporter asked the Commissioner (Adv. J.J. Botha SC) whether it would be permissible to publish the information in the report. The Commissioner confirmed that it would be in order.

Coetzee replies: “In spite of the fact that Finweek’s article is ‘legally correct’ I feel it is still unethical…”

My considerations

Sect. 1.1 of the Press Code states: “News should be obtained legally…unless public interest dictates otherwise.” (own emphasis)

This means that the publication of illegally obtained news is not per se prohibited by the Code.

I am not convinced that Finweek acted illegally – or unethically, for that matter, as:

  • the information was indeed in the public domain;
  • Botha confirmed that the information in the report could be published; and
  • if any possibility existed (whether it was established as true or not) of a pyramid scheme, it would be in the public interest (and therefore ethical) to publicly ask that question.

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 Adjudication Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman

 

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