Mr Yusuf Baboo Carrim vs The Criterion

Complainant: Mr Yusuf Baboo Carrim

Article: Supermarket accused of false advertising

Date: 21 July 2010

Respondent: The Criterion

Complaint
Mr Yusuf Baboo Carrim, owner of Kismet Supermarket in Laudium, complained about an article on page 4 of the October issue of the local newspaper, The Criterion, headlined Supermarket accused of false advertising.
The newspaper reports about the opening of a new supermarket in the area, the competition that has developed among the supermarkets there, and then goes to relate the experiences of three people who responded to an advertisement of items on special at the Kismet Supermarket. The three told the newspaper that when they got to the shop they were told the items were sold out.
Carrim denies that the items were sold out and says the newspaper was in breach of several sections of the Press Code in that the story was not truthful, accurate and fair; was not presented in context and in a balanced manner; and the headline was not a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report.
Analysis
The story says Mr Ali Adam and his wife responded to a pamphlet advertising one litre milk sachets, washing powder and other items on a special promotion.
It says after battling to find parking, they entered the shop at 11h45 and were told the items they wanted were sold out.
The Criterion says the couple told it that when they asked Carrim why the stock was not available he told them that people had come in earlier and bought out all the stock.
Mrs Adam also said that she had sent her domestic earlier that morning to buy milk and she had also been told by Carrim he did not have it in stock.
The other person the newspaper says it spoke to was Jamila Saint, who had a similar complaint.
In his written submissions to the Ombudsman’s office, Carrim says that “no milk was sold out on the morning alleged by Mrs Adam” and that “no milk product has ever been sold out on the first day of a special advertising milk”.
Carrim says that the newspaper did not give him an opportunity “to comment or respond to all of the assertions contained in the article”. He says he was merely told that there were complains against him and he responded by stating that he could not recall any complaints by any customer.
The newspaper does quote him: “Nobody came to me and complained about anything. This is something I am not aware of.”
This was an odd response. The normal response would have been to ask the reporter for the details of the allegations and then give the categorical denial that Carrim has now given to the Ombudsman: “no milk was sold out on the morning alleged by Mrs Adam” and that “no milk product has ever been sold out on the first day of a special advertising milk”.
The response given to the Ombudsman’s office sounds like an afterthought.
I also found it odd that Carrim responded to a question about what he did when he was out of stock on an item before the end of the advertised period but he did not associate this question with the allegations the reporter was talking about.
Carrim has offered to produce invoices to show that the supermarket always carries an abundance of milk, washing powder, oil and other items on special. We believe the invoices are not relevant to the complaint.
He also says there is adequate parking on the premises of the supermarket. Again this does not help us to test whether Mr and Mrs Adam struggled to get parking that morning. We have to take their word for it.
The newspaper concluded its story with a quote from a spokesperson of the Advertising Standards Authority: “If a business does not have sufficient stock to meet the demands of the consumer public for the full duration of the advertising period, then that item should not be advertised.”
The Criterion says: “She also confirmed that she was aware of businesses who(sic) have used that kind of tactic to lure customers into their businesses under false pretenses.”
Carrim has argued that this is tantamount to defamation by innuendo as it leads any reader to draw the conclusion that the supermarket was engaged in unprofessional and unethical business practice.
The ASA statement is hypothetical – if a business, etc – and depends on whether one believes the allegations by Adam, his wife and Saint.
The newspaper has merely reported what they said. Carrim has however argued that the statements by the customers were never proved to be factual and that the newspaper should have taken some steps to ascertain the veracity of the statements.
At no stage did the newspaper say that the customers’ statements were factual. The Criterion got a story from the Adam family and Saint told a similar one. It did the right thing by putting the allegations to Carrim. His response was quoted in full.
Carrim could have reacted better to the allegations, for example, invited the reporter to the shop to interview staff and other customers to get another side of the story.
The headline reflects the contents of the story, that three people are making allegations against the supermarket. They are accusing it of false advertising. The newspaper has not said the supermarket is guilty.
It is clear in the correspondence to the Ombudsman that Carrim’s major concern is that the newspaper is being used to pull down his business in favour of a new competitor whose advert was in a page next to this article.
Nothing in this story suggests that the newspaper is being used by the competition to bring down Carrim’s business.
Finding
The complaint is dismissed.
Appeal
Within seven days of receipt of this ruling, either party may apply for leave to appeal. The application, with full reasons, should be addressed to the chairperson of the Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za
Joe Thloloe