McDonald’s South Africa vs TimesLive

Complainant: McDonald’s South Africa

Lodged by: Jenni Newman

Article: Rotten meat, horses and butt burgers – five of the grossest fast food scandals

Date: 28 May 2015

Respondent: Eric Van Den Berg, on behalf of TimesLive

Complaint

McDonald’s SA (MSA) is complaining about a TimesLive article on 11 May 2015, headlined Rotten meat, horses and butt burgers – five of the grossest fast food scandals. The story was accompanied by a YouTube video questioning the quality of KFC’s meat products (uploaded on 31 January 2012) and including two events relating to McDonalds.

MSA complains that the:

·         article is prejudicial towards MSA; and

·         journalist did not ask it for comment.

The text

The story said that everybody saw the pictures and read the stories about KFC Braamfontein’s “meat on the floor” scandal, and continued to report on “other fast food scandals that have happened in the past few years”. All the examples came from outside the country.

The arguments

Newman says that the TimesLive website is primarily aimed at a South African market, and that the article is prejudicial towards MSA. She adds that McDonald’s USA has discontinued the use of controversial meat products (so-called “pink slime”) in 2012, and that MSA is above board on all counts regarding this issue.

She adds that the website did not give MSA a right of reply.

Newman requests that the website should publish:

·         an acknowledgement − with equal prominence − that it did not contact MSA for comment prior to publishing the article;

·         that the information was dated, and that the story did not reflect the hygiene standards of MSA; and

·         MSA’s video on the issue, with equal prominence.

The website replies that the article was “tongue in the cheek” and highlighted “past factually accurate events, two of which involve the McDonald’s brand”. It argues that an ordinary reader would not interpret the incidents relating to the McDonald’s brand as pertaining to South Africa.

Newman rejects all of these arguments.

Analysis

MSA’s request for TimesLive to record that its information was dated has no leg to stand on – the article made it clear from the outset that it was reporting on “fast food scandals that have happened in the past few years” (my emphasis).

I also do not buy MSA’s argument that the article could have had negative implications for MSA – the examples mentioned were all from abroad, and did not even suggest any wrongdoing on MSA’s part. The same goes for the video.

For that very reason, it was not necessary for TimesLive to ask MSA for comment, as the latter was not the subject of critical reportage.

While I am not convinced that the article was “tongue in the cheek”, I also need to emphasise that TimesLive was entirely justified in compiling some examples of wrongdoing in the fast food industry.

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 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