Dr Deon Naicker vs Chartsworth Tabloit

Complainant: Deon Naicker

Lodged by: Deon Naicker

Article: “Treat every human being as you would expect to be treated”

Author of article: anonymous writer (“X”)

Date: 24 April 2015

Respondent: Mohammed Ismail on behalf of Chatsworth Tabloid

Complaint

Naicker is complaining about a letter in Chatsworth Tabloid of 4 March 2015, headlined “Treat every human being as you would expect to be treated”.

He complains that publishing his father’s name was a violation of his privacy and dignity, and that it bordered on defamation, “reflecting an unverified opinion of conduct”. He calls it a threat to his father’s personal safety.

He notes that the newspaper published three letters on the same issue, and asks for an apology and a right of reply.

The texts

The letter of March 4, written by an anonymous writer (“X”), said that he/she stood in a queue waiting for food, after prayers at the Kharwastan (Hindu) Temple in Durban. A lady and a child stood in front of X. “The lady politely asked the temple official, Mr Naicker, for an extra paper plate for her husband. He responded, at the top of his voice, that he couldn’t give her the plate and her husband must take his own.” Naicker then told another official not to give her a plate, as the temple was losing thousands of rands every year because people want paper plates.

X said Naicker had been rude to the woman and her child, and had embarrassed them before everybody present; adding that the same officials later packed food in containers and took these home.

The responses

The newspaper refuses to publish an apology, but offers to make the “letter saga” into a news item and “perhaps using Naicker’s reply in a box”. However, this reply should not come from a third party.

Naicker is adamant that he wants an apology, and asks for adjudication.

Analysis

Naicker submits that the publication of the letters violated the Preamble to the Press Code, as well as the following sections of the Code:

·         4.5: “Some personal information, such as addresses or other identifying details, may enable others to intrude on the privacy and safety of individuals who are the subject of news coverage, and their families. To the extent lawful and practicable, the press should disclose only sufficient personal information to identify the persons being reported in the news, so that these risks can be reasonably avoided”;

·         4.6: “Where security measures that protect personal information have been compromised, the journalist or publication controlling that information, must inform the affected person(s) and take reasonable steps to mitigate any prejudicial effects”; and

·         4.7: “The press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation…”

Naicker calls the incident “unverified”, but he does not deny that it happened – he merely complains that the newspaper identified his father. The only issue before me, therefore, is whether the newspaper was justified in revealing Naicker’s name – surely, X had the right to his opinion and the freedom to express his views on the incident.

Also, one cannot be defamed by the truth (if the public interest is involved).

Let me now take a closer look at the sections of the Press Code cited by Naicker.

Section 4.5

I do not believe that the identification of Naicker’s father intruded on his privacy. The incident happened in public, and it was indeed in the public interest to report the matter. The letter did not identify any other personal information, such as his home address or contact details.

Neither do I see any threat to his safety – his behaviour is hardly likely to invoke violence against him.

Section 4.6

I am not aware that any security measures protecting personal information have been compromised.

Section 4.7

If the incident did take place (and Naicker does not dispute it), it was his father himself, and not the newspaper, who compromised his dignity and reputation.

Finding

Given all of the above, I do not blame the newspaper for identifying Naicker’s father, or for the need to verify the information.

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

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman