Dr Ronald Goldman vs TimesLive

Complainant: Dr Ronald Goldman

Lodged by: Dr Ronald Goldman

Article: Circumcision is not a life-saver

Date: 6 July 2015

Respondent: TimesLive


Goldman is complaining about a letter to the editor published on 30 June 2015, written by him and headlined Circumcision is not a life-saver.

He complains that the publications have promised him 400 words, but then cut it to 232. “They deleted 42% of my letter. That is outrageous!”

He insists that his letter be published in full, saying that the reduction was not about space. “The title was in very large font that could have been reduced.”

He also argues that the deletion reflects the widespread practice of African publications to include only pro-circumcision opinions. “This practice conflicts with the public interest to have fair, accurate, and balanced reporting of all issues. The deletion violates journalism ethical principles.”

My point of departure

I note that TimesLive did not promise to publish 400 words – it said “not more than 400 words”.

Also, it is journalistic practice, worldwide, to edit and shorten letters to accommodate the available space.

I am therefore hesitant to take on this complaint in the first place.

However, while some detail invariably gets lost in the editing and shortening process, it is conceivable that the excised information may be material in the sense that its omission may change the meaning of the document or destroy its context, and therefore render it unbalanced and misleading.

I see it as my one and only task to establish whether or not this has indeed happened in the case under consideration.

The editing

Goldman’s full text is reflected, with the parts that were omitted underlined and in red:

Many professionals disagree with the claim that adult male circumcision reduces the risk of men acquiring HIV. Unfortunately, African media often do not publish this view. Here’s a summary with more details at http://www.circumcision.org/hiv.htm.

Methods used in the HIV studies were flawed. For example, the HIV status of female partners of men in the studies was unknown. Consequently, which infections were heterosexually transmitted and the effect of circumcision on HIV transmission could not truly be determined. Most African HIV infections are transmitted by contaminated injections and surgical procedures.

Even if the claim were true, based on these studies about 60 men had to be circumcised to prevent one HIV infection. Furthermore, the complication rate for an African clinical circumcision is 18%.

Researcher bias influenced results. Lead researchers of the studies are known circumcision advocates. Research careers, reputations, and associated funding depended on producing studies with positive results.

The studies were not consistent with other evidence. African national population surveys in eight countries found a higher rate of HIV infection among circumcised men compared to men who were not circumcised. Seventeen observational studies found no benefit from circumcision in reducing HIV transmission.

Condoms are 99% effective, much less invasive, and much less costly. Significantly, the studies recommend the use of condoms in addition to circumcision. With the superior effectiveness of condoms, circumcision adds negligible additional protection. Condoms also protect women.

International AIDS experts and profiteers have the financial power to force their lucrative agendas on Africa. “In the fight against AIDS, profiteering has trumped prevention. AIDS is no longer simply a disease; it has become a multibillion-dollar industry,” stated Sam Ruteikara, co-chair of Uganda’s National AIDS-Prevention Committee. The WHO decision to support circumcision was controlled by circumcision advocates who prevented open debate.

The foreskin protects the head of the penis, enhances sexual pleasure, and facilitates intercourse. It is about one-third of the erogenous tissue on the adult penile shaft, approximately 75 square centimeters. Circumcision removes several kinds of specialized nerves and results in thickening and progressive desensitization of the penile head, particularly in older men.

Men circumcised as adults reported decreased sexual enjoyment after circumcision. One described it as like seeing in black and white compared to seeing in color. Psychological consequences include anger, shame, distrust, and sexual anxieties. In a survey of those with comparative sexual experience, women preferred the natural penis over the circumcised penis by 6 to 1.

My considerations

The detail that got lost did not alter the meaning of the text, nor was the remainder of the letter out of context, unbalanced or misleading. The public simply has to understand that publications have only so much space, and that it cannot satisfy everybody’s demands.

It is true that the headline could have been smaller to allow for more space. The other side of this coin, however, is that Goldman’s letter was the main one on the page, published at the top and in bold (unlike the other letters).

Another option for Goldman could have been recognition for the big and prominent headline afforded to his letter.


The complaint is dismissed.


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