Complaint against Pretoria News

Dear all

You have all lodged a complaint with our office about an opinion piece that was published in the Pretoria News on June 29.

The text that you complain about is an opinion piece and not a news story.

The rules for opinion pieces and news stories are vastly different. In an opinion piece one has the freedom, guaranteed by the Constitution, to express your views. An opinion piece is normally by nature biased (one-sided) because it represents a matter from a subjective angle. And even when a statement is inaccurate, the writer is protected by the Constitution to the effect that s/he has the right to be wrong.

The Constitutional Court has ruled in April this year (Robert McBride vs The Citizen) as follows (I translate from Afrikaans, so the quotation may not be completely accurate): “Criticism is protected, even if it is extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it is an honest opinion, without malice, in the public interest and founded on true facts.”

The Press Code says the following on this matter:

Art. 4.1: “The press shall be entitled to comment upon or criticize any actions or events of public importance provided such comments or criticisms are fairly and honestly made.”
Art. 4.2: “Comment by the press shall be presented in such manner that it appears that it is comment, and shall be made on facts truly stated or fairly indicated and referred to.”
Art. 4.3: “Comment by the press shall be an honest expression of opinion, without malice or dishonest motives, and shall take fair account of all available facts which are material to the matter commented upon.”

I have read the article in dispute as well as the complaints carefully and have come to the following conclusions:
• I have no grounds to accuse the writer of making comments and criticisms unfairly and dishonestly (Art. 4.1) or to say that he did not state facts truly and did not indicate to them fairly (Art. 4.2);
• The editor assures me that the article was published in a space that is clearly marked for opinion pieces (and I have no reason to disbelieve him). Therefore, the first part of Art. 4.2 is adhered to;
• None of the complainants gave proof of “fact” that the writer did not take fair account of all available facts which are material to the matter commented upon (Art. 4.3) – yes, some of you did challenge his interpretation, but that is not what the second part of this article is about; and
• Given the wide scope that the Constitution and the Press Code gives the writer, I have no ground to find against him.

I suggest that you write a letter to the editor in which you express your views in the same space where the article appeared. The editor has already indicated that he offered some people this opportunity.

You may ask the chairperson of the Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, for leave to appeal against my decision to dismiss your complaints, fully setting out the reasons for your application. He can be reached on khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Kind regards

Johan