Mrs Smith vs The New Age – Dismissed

Complainant: Mrs Smith

Article: Racist farm evictions’ are target for Cosatu

Date: 

Respondent: The New Age

Dear Mr Smith

Your complaint about the story headlined Racist farm evictions’ are target for Cosatu (published December 24, 2010) in The New Age newspaper refers.
You complain that:
  • the story falsely portrays the eviction of non-workers from farms as a racist practice;
  • the sole purpose of the story is to promote racial hatred, crime, ethnic cleansing and genocide of whites; and
  • Mr Solly Phetoe as well as The New Age promote hatred against whites and that they themselves are racists.
Let’s take a closer look at these complaints:
Eviction of non-workers from farms – racist?
You:
  • seem to interpret the story in such a way that it supposedly portrays all evictions from farms as racist actions;
  • complain that the eviction of non-workers “has nothing to do with racist” actions; and
  • argue that, if a person is no longer employed on a farm, it is not the employer’s responsibility to provide accommodation for him for the rest of his life.
Firstly, the story does not say that all evictions from farms are racist practices – it specifically states that Cosatu has demanded that the Government intervenes in incidents of illegal farm evictions. This implies that Cosatu accepts that not all evictions are illegal. This interpretation is supported by the second sentence, where Phetoe is quoted as saying that Cosatu would take strong action against any farmer who undermined the rights of farm workers. I shall shortly come back to this issue.
Also, nowhere does the story state it as a fact that some evictions are racist practices – time and time again the term is ascribed to a source, and the word “alleged” is used often. This is standard journalistic practice. The newspaper was squarely within its rights to inform the public about Cosatu’s demands in this regard.
It is not for me to say whether or not some of these evictions were indeed racist – my only question is if the newspaper was within its rights to report the way it did.
Lastly, the story does not state it as a fact that farm workers have a right to stay on farms for life (as you seem to suggest). It does not even insinuate it.
Purpose: To promote racial hatred, crime, ethnic cleansing, genocide
You say that the purpose of the story is to promote racial hatred; you note that the words racist/racism are mentioned 7 times in the story. To this, you add that it is common cause that there is a well-planned genocide-plan to chase all white farmers off their land.
I do not believe that the intention of the story is to promote racial hatred. Again, the story is about illegal evictions and sources are quoted (their statements/allegations are not stated as facts). The number of times the word “racist” is used is also not a convincing argument – those words (again) either come from sources or the word “alleged” is used in that regard.
Phetoe, The New Age promoting hatred
Based on the above-mentioned argumentation (the demand to intervene in incidents of illegal farm evictions, quotes from sources as well as the use of the word “allegedly”), the statement that Phetoe and the newspaper are promoting racism is not supported by the story.
I have therefore decided to dismiss your complaint in its entirety.
You can, within 7 days after having received this decision, ask Judge Ralph Zulman for leave to appeal. He can be reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za, fully setting out your reasons for doing so.
Regards
Johan

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