Isaac Trout vs. Son

Complainant: Isaac Trout

Article: Skool-fence kom nie klaar, with sub-headlines Hy het reeds die geld and Ou vol verskonings oor hy al meer as ‘n jaar                  besig is

Date: 09 March 2010

Respondent: Son

Complaint
Trout, a building contractor, lodged a complaint against an article in Son headlined Skool-fence kom nie klaar, with sub-headlines Hy het reeds die geld and Ou vol verskonings oor hy al meer as ‘n jaar besig is.
The article says Trout has been avoiding the Oasis Special School for handicapped children for more than a year because he has failed to complete the perimeter fencing.
The story says the chairman of the school’s governing body, Mr Preston Petersen told the newspaper that the school contracted Trout in October 2008 for R295 000 to put up a fence around the school. The story says Petersen told journalist Sonika Johnston that the school paid Trout half of the money in advance. It said Petersen said Trout later asked for R90 000 to finish the job.
Petersen is quoted as saying: “We had no reason to distrust him and paid the money.”
Son reported that the job was still not finished
Trout complains that:
  • The headline Hy het reeds die geld (“He has the money already”) implies that he has received all the money, which is not the case;
  • The school’s governing body and principal knew the reason for the delay. The article implied that he gave the school several reasons for the delay;
  • It was an infringement of his privacy for Son to publish a photograph of his home.
 Analysis
Money
What does the headline “Hy het reeds die geld” really say? It does not say that he has received all the money; all it says is that he has received money. Furthermore, in the article itself it is mentioned that Trout received half of the full amount of R295 750 in advance, plus a further R90 000. It is a matter of simple arithmetic – he has not received all the money.
Delay
The article quotes Petersen saying: “Every time he has the same excuse that he cannot get the supplies to complete the work.” The newspaper also reports that when it contacted Trout, he said he couldn’t get the palisades to complete the work.
In the 6-page complaint Trout explains that he could not get the palisades and that the school “principal, Mr Henkeman, his vice principal and one of the other staff members, all on separate occasions telephoned” the supplier to find out when the material would be available and were given different periods.
Johnston reports that when she phoned the supplier in Athlone, the company told her that Trout had placed two orders and was due to make the third but he didn’t.
The reporter does not appear to have interviewed the principal but rather got her information from the chairman of the school’s governing body.
When she contacted Trout, he should have directed her to the principal if he thought his information was important for his defence.
The nub of this leg of the complaint is that Trout’s reason for the delay is reported, first in the quotation from Petersen and then in his own response to the newspaper. The newspaper also telephoned the supplier, and that company’s version of events is also contained in the report.
Trout is also unhappy with the phrase “hulle is nou al goed gatvol vir sy flou verskonings” – they are fed up with his lame excuses.
The story does say the school is fed up with the lame excuses that Trout gives but in the very next sentence the newspaper quotes Petersen saying, “Every time he has the same excuse that he cannot get the supplies to complete the work.”
It is not many excuses that are implied here.
This is an accurate reflection of the state of affairs.
Privacy
Trout complains that publishing a photograph of his home was an infringement of his privacy. It is not. The building is in public and there was no intrusion into his house, which would have amounted to an infringement.
Finding
The headline, sub-headlines, the article and the photograph are not in breach of the Press Code. The complaint is dismissed.
Appeal
Please note that our Complaints Procedures lays down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, anyone of the parties may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman

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