Melomed Hospital vs Daily Voice

Complainant: Melomed Hospital
Lodged by: Jonathan Johannes
Article: Hospital disfigures my child – Baby sent home with festering arm.
Respondent: Daily Voice
Complaint

Melomed Hospital (MH) complains about a story in the Daily Voice on 5 March 2012 and headlined Hospital disfigures my child – Baby sent home with festering arm.

MH complains that the newspaper:

·         did not give it an opportunity to respond; and

·         misrepresented its correspondence with the publication.

The hospital also complains about the headline and the caption.

Analysis

The story, written by Tshego Lepule, is about a toddler who was admitted to the hospital. The child’s mother reportedly said that her baby was left with a “horrible disfigured arm” after being treated at the hospital. MH’s spokesperson reportedly confirmed that the child had been admitted “but (he) refused to disclose any more details”.

 

No opportunity to respond

MH (on the Cape Flats) says that it could not disclose information without proper permission, and complains that the absence of its response has led to a one-sided story.

In its correspondence with the Daily Voice, MH requested the journalist to provide it with the necessary authorisation from the patient’s natural guardian “in order for us to disclose same”.

Clearly, the newspaper did get authorisation from the mother – hence its story.

There was no logical reason why the mother would have prevented MH from giving out information as her willingness to speak to the press implied that she probably would not have minded the hospital to do so as well. So why then did the newspaper not inform the hospital that it got permission from her? There is no reason why it neglected to do so, nor is there any valid excuse for this.

At the very least, the newspaper should have taken the trouble to furnish MH with the necessary authorisation – as it was likely to do. This neglect resulted in MH not being able to comment.

Please note that the mother was within her rights to say what she said, and the newspaper was justified in reporting her views. This is not in dispute.

Misrepresenting correspondence

MH complains that the newspaper misrepresented its correspondence to the journalist.

In reply to a request for information, MH told the reporter that it was not at liberty to disclose the patient’s treatment plan as this was confidential; MH then requested the journalist to provide it with the necessary authorisation from the patient’s natural guardian “in order for us to disclose same”. The hospital also noted that Dr Khan practiced independently and that it was not privy to his notes and information.

The story merely says that MH’s spokesperson “refused to disclose any more details”.

This is appalling journalism. MH’s response to Lepule was reasonable – it could not convey the information at that stage, but showed its willingness to do so once it has obtained the necessary permission. Instead, the story created the unfair and false impression that the hospital was unwilling to disclose information and therefore that it had something to hide.

This mistake is indeed serious, as it did not adequately summarise MH’s correspondence, and instead created the wrong impression.

This is a classic case of a story being accurate, but out of context and therefore unfair.

Headline, caption

The headline reads: Hospital disfigured my child. The caption says, “Clueless: Nurses couldn’t explain infection”.

MH complains that the headline cast the hospital in a negative light as it alleged that the hospital had caused the child’s disfigurement. Referring to the caption about the “clueless” nurse, MH argues that the scope of a nurse’s duties does not include diagnosing patients.

Both the headline and the caption were based on the information from the mother who is quoted in the story.

However, this does not necessarily imply that the headline and caption are correct – for that the story must be fair and accurate. As mentioned, the article did not contain MH’s proper response, which led to an unfair and inaccurate story – and therefore in turn to an unfair headline and caption.

General remark

Lepule’s mistakes did not lie in what he wrote – he merely represented the mother’s views, as he was entitled to do. It is in what he did not write (MH’s comment after it obtained authorisation, and the hospital’s willingness to disclose information) what caused the problems.

Finding

No opportunity to respond

The Daily Voice is in breach of Art. 1.5 of the Press Code that states: “A publication should seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication… If the publication is unable to obtain such comment this shall be stated in the report.”

This reportage is also in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Code that says: “The press shall be obliged to report news…fairly.”

Misrepresenting correspondence

The newspaper is in breach of Art. 1.2 of the Code: “News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion…or misrepresentation, material omissions…”

This is also in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Code.

Headline, caption

Both the headline and the caption are in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Press Code.

Sanction
Daily Voice is directed to apologise to MH for:

·         not taking the trouble to furnish the hospital with the necessary authorisation;

·         not obtaining its views prior to publication;

·         misrepresenting its correspondence; and

·         the unfair headline and caption.

The newspaper is directed to publish the text below, including MH’s response (if the hospital still wants to comment – in that case, the newspaper should furnish this office with that response prior to publication).

Beginning of text:

Daily Voice apologises to Melomed Hospital (MH, on the Cape Flats) for not taking the trouble to furnish it with the necessary authorisation, for not obtaining its views prior to publication, for misrepresenting its correspondence, and for an unfair headline and caption.

This comes after MH lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman about a story on 5 March 2012, headlined Hospital disfigures my child – Baby sent home with festering arm.

The story was about a toddler who had been admitted to MH. The child’s mother reportedly said that her baby was left with a “horrible disfigured arm” after being treated at the hospital. MH’s spokesperson reportedly confirmed that the child had been admitted “but refused to disclose any more details”.

Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief found that we have misrepresented MH’s correspondence to us as the hospital said that it needed proper permission before disclosing information – showing its willingness to communicate. Our story merely said that MH “refused to disclose more details”, unfairly hinting that MH was unwilling to disclose information.

He said: “This is appalling journalism… the story created the unfair and false impression that the hospital was unwilling to disclose information and that it had something to hide. This mistake is indeed serious, as it did not adequately summarise MH’s correspondence, and instead created the wrong impression. This is a classic case of a story being accurate, but out of context and therefore unfair.”

Retief also said that we had no valid reason for not taking the trouble to get the necessary authorisation; we also should have obtained the hospital’s views prior to publication.

MH’s RESPONSE (if the hospital wants to comment).
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2012) for the full finding.

End of text
Appeal

 Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, either party 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. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman

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