Kiren Naidoo vs Sunday Times -2

Complainant: Kiren Naidoo

Lodged by: Kiren Naidoo

Article: Saffers’ identities disappear abroad

Author of article: Telford Vice

Date: 12 July 2013

Respondent: Sunday Times -2

Complaint

Mr Kiren Naidoo complains about a column in the Sunday Times, authored by Telford Vice, headlined Saffers’ identities disappear abroad, and published on 16 June 2013.

He complains that the statement, “hostility rose like a mirage from the Indian supporters” was unsubstantiated – and therefore unbalanced and unfair.

Analysis

Telford Vice wrote in his column about the behaviour of crowds at the ICC’s World Cup tournament that was held a few weeks ago: “The Pakistani fans met instances of good play by the South Africans with stoic indifference, but hostility rose like a mirage from the Indian supporters…”

Naidoo complains that Vice did not provide any example of how “hostility rose like a mirage from the Indian supporters”. He argues: “How can someone make such a ludicrous statement without backing it up? Where is the substantiation? The announcement for the Press Council states that the ‘Sunday Times subscribes to the South African Press Code that prescribes news that is truthful, accurate, fair and balanced. This is none of those things.”

Sunday Times says that Vice attended the match, and argues: “The observation, which was reflected in a clearly marked column, was a valid generalization based on the behaviour witnessed by the writer. There is no reason why any ‘back-up’ should be required.”

It appears that Naidoo does not take into account the fundamental difference between the reporting of news, and the nature of comment. The criteria of truthfulness, accuracy and fairness have a bearing on the reporting of news; other yardsticks apply when it comes to comment in columns (such as this one).

Let me explain:

The Constitutional Court has ruled in April 2011 (Robert McBride vs. National Media) as follows: “Criticism is protected even if extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it expresses an honestly held opinion, without malice, on a matter of public interest on facts that are true.”

In much the same vein Section 7 of the Press Code reads:

  • 7.1 The press shall be entitled to comment or criticize any actions or events of public interest provided such comments or criticisms are fairly and honestly made;
  • 7.2 Comment by the press shall be presented in such manner that it appears clearly that it is comment, and shall be made on facts truly stated or fairly indicated and referred to; and
  • 7.3 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.

The only other boundaries when commenting on events are hate speech (as defined in Section 16 of the Bill of Rights as well as in the Press Code) and defamation.

I accept that Vice attended the games, and submit that I have no reason to believe that he has transgressed any of the above-mentioned criteria. Even if he was wrong in his interpretation (which I do not know, as I have not attended these games), both the Constitution and the Press Code give him the right to be wrong.

In other words: When criticism is levelled within the boundaries as set out above, it is healthy “even if extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced” and should therefore be welcomed in the marketplace of ideas and opinions – even if one may disagree with that criticism.

If this office rules that a newspaper may not publish any observation in its columns that may negatively reflect on any interest group in the country, even though this comment operates within the boundaries as mentioned above, it will open up a fundamentally undemocratic and unconstitutional path – the result of which would be too ghastly to contemplate.

Finding

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

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman