Pearl Thusi vs Sunday Sun

Complainant: Pearl Thusi

Lodged by:  Sarit Tomlinson, on behalf of TV presenter Pearl Thusi

Article:  Show is all shook up! – Rumours of two ditched presenters

Author of article:  Dimakatso Motau and Snazo Noto

Date:  26 February 2016

Respondent: Sunday Sun 

Complaint

Thusi is complaining about an article on page 6 in Sunday Sun of 31 January 2016, headlined Show is all shook up! – Rumours of two ditched presenters.

She complains that the newspaper:

·         inaccurately stated that she had been ditched by the SABC;

·         did not contact either her or SABC1; and

·         quoted her incorrectly – she did not either confirm or deny anything, but asked the journalist to speak to the show’s producer.

The text

The story, written by Dimakatso Motau and Snazo Noto, said that Thusi (and DJ Warras) “have allegedly been kicked off Live Amp!” The newspaper’s sources reportedly claimed that the two presenters would be hosting their last show on February 7. According to these (three) sources, the show would also be moved from 21:00 on a Friday night to 19:30, and would air for only 30 minutes.

Analysis

Tomlinson explains that the SABC has changed the format and the time of the show, and not Thusi as its presenter. She argues that this type of reporting can “create career havoc” for Thusi “and negative brand sentiment which sends her sponsors and other investors into a spin”.

She says the show’s producer, Sjula Dlamini, told the newspaper the allegation was untrue, but he could not give the matter the necessary attention as his partner’s son died a few hours before from a bee sting. “This was communicated,” she adds.

Vos replies the newspaper believes the story to be reasonably true, as Thusi herself has confirmed that the story was correct. He argues, “When we phoned her she confirmed … that she is leaving the show. We quoted her as saying: ‘I know my comment is never good enough unless it’s something. Yes, it’s true’.” He says Thusi then referred the journalist to Dlamini for further comment. However, he was busy with funeral arrangements and could not attend properly to the newspaper’s enquiry.

He points out that the story referred to three sources.

The deputy editor also submits that the story never stated as fact that Thusi was leaving the show, but indicated in the introductory sentence that this was an allegation. He says the rest of the story was attributed to information garnered from various sources.

Vos adds that the newspaper also tried to get comment from:

·         DJ Warras (unsuccessfully); and

·         SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago, who merely said they were rescheduling and that they would make an announcement soon.

 

My considerations

The following statements are relevant to the issue at hand:

·         An allegation is not true, nor is it reasonably true, just because someone has made it; and

·         For the same reason, a newspaper is not justified in publishing just any allegation – it has to be “reasonably true”, as required by the Press Code.

Normally it is difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong when it comes to a “yes-no-situation”, such as this one.

However, that does not leave me totally helpless.

I am namely uncomfortable with Vos’s statement that Thusi had confirmed that the allegation was true – and yet he also emphasizes that the story presented this “confirmation” as an allegation. If the newspaper was so sure that its information was correct, why then present it as an allegation in the first place?

Secondly, I do not know who these sources are – but I cannot help asking myself just how independent they were from each other. Did Sunday Sun really deal with three, independent sources – or were they in fact a three-in-one case?

Also, Vos has supplied me with the journalist’s notes, which seem quite credible. However, even though those notes contain the words, “Yes, it is true”, I cannot regard this as decisive as I do not know what the question was. It may have been about Thusi having been shown the door – but it may also have referred to the change in the time slot, or to something else.

But that is not all. I raised the following issues with Vos:

·         According to a “source” who was quoted in the story, Thusi’s last show was to be on February 7. However, she still continued presenting the show. Vos admits that this is not in dispute; and

·         I asked if Sunday Sun published a follow-up story. The answer was “no”.

The first issue is important, as it induces the question of just how “reasonable” it was to accept that Thusi in fact admitted that she was not continuing with the show. Why would she admit it if it was not true? Rather, it is more possible that her words “Yes, it is true” referred to something else.

The second bullet is as significant as the first. Clearly, the newspaper’s information was wrong. Surely, it was incumbent on the newspaper to publish a correction of some sort – as required by the Press Code.

I do take into account, though, that it is quite easy to argue afterwards (as I am doing here) that the newspaper’s information was not reasonably true – but at the time, and with the information Sunday Sun thought was at its disposal, it might have been a different story.

I am therefore hesitant to find that the newspaper was in breach of the Press Code by publishing the allegations as allegations, and am rather inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt on this issue.

What I am not lenient about, though, is the fact that events following the publication of the story in fact proved that the newspaper’s information was factually wrong. The Press Code is clear on this issue – because people can easily be harmed by the publication of inaccurate information, and the media should therefore do everything in their power to limit that kind of unnecessary damage.

The part of the complaint about the newspaper failing to contact her (either Thusi or Tomlinson) and SABC1 is beyond understanding.

Finding

The fact that Sunday Sun did not print a correction or at least an explanation after subsequent events proved that the story was flawed, is in breach of Section 1.10 of the Press Code that states, “The media shall make amends for presenting information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by communicating, promptly and with appropriate prominence so as to readily attract attention, a retraction, correction or explanation.”

Seriousness of breaches                

Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of our Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1), serious breaches (Tier 2) and serious misconduct (Tier 3).                                                                           

The breach of the Press Code as indicated above is a Tier 2 offence.

Sanction

Sunday Sun is directed to make amends by publishing, at the top of page 6, a retraction, correction or explanation of its reportage.

The text, which should be approved by me, should:

 

    • start with the crux of the matter; and
    • end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”.

 

 

The headline should reflect the content of the text. A heading such as Matter of Fact, or something similar, is not acceptable.

This text should be published on the newspaper’s website as well.

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