Colin and Angela Daniels vs Son

Complainant: Colin and Angela Daniels

Lodged by: Colin and Angela Daniels

Article: Oom sê sy lus is nog hoog – Man moeg van ‘handwerk’.

Author of article:  Basil Davids

Date: 2 October 2013

Respondent: Son

Complaint

Mr and Mrs Daniels complain about a story in Son on 2 August 2013, headlined Oom sê sy lus is nog hoog – Man moeg van ‘handwerk’.

They complain that the picture that was published of Mrs Daniels’s uncle (Mr Daniel Readien) was taken under false pretences and that he did not give Son permission to publish it (let alone to use it with a story such as the one in question). In later correspondence Mrs Daniels says that the reportage ridiculed Readien and that he became the butt of many a joke.

Analysis

The story, written by Basil Davids, reported that an elderly man from Robertson (75, called Mr Hans Gouws in the story) with a strong sex urge and who had struggled to get a girlfriend, had told the newspaper that he had become tired of masturbating. The story was accompanied by a picture of “Gouws” (who was in reality Readien).

The picture

Mrs Daniels says that her uncle was mentally unstable, adding that the reporter did not tell him what the photograph was going to be used for. She argues that the misuse of the picture has impaired Readien’s dignity. She also complains that, while the story may have been true, Readien did not give Son permission to publish the picture (let alone to use it with a story such as this one). She adds that her uncle became the laughing stock of the community.

Son admits that Davids conducted an interview with Readien, and states that the latter asked the reporter to use a pseudonym (Gouws). The newspaper also says that Readien requested that his photograph be taken from the back (a request that its journalist adhered to). According to the reporter, Readien “granted him the interview with full knowledge that (it) will be published in Son, but that his real name will not be used”. The publication states that it failed to mention the fact that Gouws was a pseudonym.

The newspaper offers to do a follow-up story in which it would state that Gouws’s real name was in fact Readien, “and that we published the photo under the agreed name of Hans Gouws”.

I take it that Son did speak with Readien and that the gist of what he said was published – Mrs Daniels does not dispute that fact.

I asked Son the following questions:

·         The Press Code, together with its Preamble, is clear that the work of the press is at all times guided by the public interest. Please explain to me what the public interest was in the story and its picture.

·         Colin and Angela says that Readien is mentally unstable. Was the journalist aware of such a possibility prior to publication?

·         The caption described Readien as “Hans Gouws”. You have explained…that this was a pseudonym – but the story did not mention this fact. Why not?

Son responded as follows:

·         Readien contacted the newspaper with his problem – the publication of the story was therefore in his interests.

·         Davids denies he knew that Readien was mentally unstable.

·         The neglect to report that “Gouws” was a pseudonym was a bona fide mistake – however, the newspaper says that it protected Readien’s identity by not identifying him (the picture was taken from behind, and the story did not mention his name), and concludes that it did not try to impair his dignity.

I take into account that Robertson is a relatively small community, and that a considerable proportion of the people in his area would in all probability have recognized him from the picture – even though it was taken from behind.

These are my considerations, in favour of Son:

·         I simply do not know if the journalist was aware that Readien was mentally unstable (I take Mrs Daniels’s word for it, which was not disputed by the newspaper), and I therefore give him the benefit of the doubt on this issue; and

·         If the story mentioned that “Gouws” was a pseudonym, people would probably have been even more suspicious of Readien.

On the other hand, I also take into account that the story was most certainly not in the public interest, that people who knew Readien could still have identified him from the picture, and that the content of the story was unnecessarily damaging to his dignity and an impairment of his privacy.

I also do not buy Son’s argument that the publication of the story was in Readien’s interests merely because he contacted the newspaper with his problem. Even so, the newspaper still needed to exercise its discretion in this regard – which it clearly did not do properly. The statement that he knew that Son was going to publish the story is therefore irrelevant.

This leaves me with a prickly pear, as any follow-up story (as Son suggests) would merely serve to exacerbate Readien’s embarrassment. This includes any kind of a public apology.

Finding

The publishing of Readien’s picture in such a way that people who knew him could still identify him, caused him some serious, unnecessary harm and is in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

·         4.1: “The press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals. The right to privacy may only be overridden by a legitimate public interest”; and

·         4.2: “The press shall exercise care and consideration involving dignity…”

Sanction

Son is directed to write Readien a personal letter of apology, the content of which should include the finding above and be approved by this office.

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 Chair of Appeals, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds for the application. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman