Nikesh Dhanlal vs Sunday Times Extra

Complainant: Nikesh Dhanlal

Lodged by: Nikesh Dhanlal

Article: Well-loved bakery forced to down tools

Author of article: Santham Pillay

Date: 11 June 2013

Respondent: Sunday Times Extra

Complaint

Mr Nikesh Dhanlal, the owner of Top Hat Bakery in Durban, complains about a story in Sunday Times Extra on 17 March 2013, headlined Well-loved bakery forced to down tools.

Dhanlal complains that:

·         the reporter did not contact him for comment prior to publication;

·         the reporter used the magistrate’s court papers (a previous case that the reporter felt could be interpreted in the same manner) to write about the High Court case;

·         the matter was unopposed, yet the story gave the impression that it was argued in court;

·         the story inaccurately stated that an order was served requesting him to move out of the Phoenix store – he says no such order was served;

·         the matter was withdrawn with costs (so no summary judgment was delivered, as indicated by the story);

·         the story did not reflect the fact that he had vacated the premises prior to the court date; and

·         the headline was misleading.

Analysis

The story, written by Santham Pillay, was about a court case in which the bakery had been ordered to vacate its premises as a result of overdue rent.

Not contacted for comment

Dhanlal complains that the reporter did not contact him for comment prior to publication.

The newspaper responds that it was not obliged to do so as the story was about a court case.

The publication is correct, of course – it is not normal journalistic practice to ask people for comment when doing court reporting.

Different court papers

Dhanlal complains that the reporter used the magistrate’s court papers (a previous case that the reporter may have felt could be interpreted in the same manner) to write about the High Court case.

Sunday Times Extra says the papers that had been filed in the magistrate’s court were included in the papers filed in the High Court and that the reporter was referring to these papers in the story (it furnished this office with copies of the court documents that formed the basis of the story).

This argument holds water, as is evidenced by the court documents referred to above.

Unopposed

Dhanlal says that the story created the false impression that matter had been argued in court, while in fact it was unopposed.

The newspaper admits that it made an error and states that it is willing to correct this mistake.

Vacating the property

Dhanlal complains that the story inaccurately stated that an order was served requesting him to vacate the premises – he says no such order was served.

Sunday Times Extra denies this. It says that the order stated explicitly that Dhalal trading as Top Hat Bakery was to vacate the property.

According to documentation, the court indeed ordered Dhanlal (on 6 March 2013) to vacate the property.

Withdrawn with costs

Dhanlal says that the matter was withdrawn with costs (therefore no summary judgement was granted).

The newspaper disagrees. It says that the matter was not withdrawn, as the court made an order of eviction.

The documentation at my disposal proves that the publication is correct (see the previous sub-heading) – it indeed ordered eviction.

Moving out prior to court date

Dhanlal states that he moved out prior to the court date.

Sunday Times Extra mentions that this information was not in the court papers, and says that it is willing to include this in a correction regarding the matter being unopposed.

Misleading headline

Dhanlal complains that the headline (Well-loved bakery forced to down tools) was misleading.

The headline merely reflected the content of the story, as prescribed by the Press Code.

General

Sunday Times Extra offers to correct certain inaccuracies by publishing the following: “In ‘Well-loved bakery forced to down tools’, we incorrectly stated that Jayprakash Dhanlal opposed an eviction application in the Durban High Court. In fact, the matter was unopposed. Dhanlal has since told us that his Top Hat Bakery had already vacated the premises at White House Shopping Centre in phoenix, Durban, at the time of the case.”

Dhanlal refuses this offer and insists on an apology and the correction of other information.

Finding

Not contacted for comment

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Different court papers

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Unopposed

The story created the false impression that the matter had been argued in court (while in fact it was unopposed). This is in breach of Art. 2.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall take care to report news…accurately…”

Vacating the property

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Withdrawn with costs

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Moving out prior to court date

The story did not say that Dhanlal had moved out prior to the court date. Although this is not material to the story, Sunday Times Extra said that it was willing to include this in a correction regarding the matter being unopposed.

While there is no formal finding on this part of the complaint as it is not material to the story, the newspaper’s offer is accepted.

Misleading headline

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Sanction

Sunday Times Extra is cautioned for creating the false impression that the matter had been argued in court (while, in fact, it was unopposed).

The newspaper is directed to publish the following text in its Extra edition:

The Press Ombudsman has cautioned Sunday Times Extra for creating the false impression that a matter involving the owner of Top Hat Bakery in Durban, Mr Nikesh Dhanlal, was argued in court – while, in fact, it was unopposed.

The story, headlined Well-loved bakery forced to down tools (17 March 2013, written by Santham Pillay) was about a court case in which the bakery had been ordered to vacate its premises as a result of overdue rent.

We offered to publish the following (which was accepted by the Ombudsman): “…we incorrectly stated that…Dhanlal opposed an eviction application in the Durban High Court. In fact, the matter was unopposed. Dhanlal has (also) since told us that his Top Hat Bakery had already vacated the premises at White House Shopping Centre in phoenix, Durban, at the time of the case.”

The Ombudsman, Johan Retief, dismissed the rest of Dhanlal’s complaint, comprising of five sub-sections.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

End of text

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