Rajan Govender vs Sunday Tribune Herald

Complainant: Rajan Govender

Lodged by: Rajan Govender

Article: Teacher abuse: Umzinto principal to face probe

Author of article:  Juggie Naran

Date: 11 June 2013

Respondent: Sunday Tribune Herald

Complaint

Mr Rajan Govender complains about a story in Sunday Tribune Herald on 14 April 2013, headlined Teacher abuse: Umzinto principal to face probe.

Govender complains that the:

·         story was biased and not based on tangible facts;

·         article found him guilty even before the departmental process could begin  and that the newspaper prematurely published the story; and

·         reporter did not give him the right to respond.

Analysis

The story, written by Juggie Naran, was about an inquiry into Govender who was alleged to have verbally abused teachers. The teachers reportedly lodged complaints with the education MEC in KwaZulu-Natal.

Biased, not based on facts

Govender complains that the story was biased and not based on tangible facts. He denies the veracity of the allegations made against him and argues that the story has discredited him and has tarnished the image of the school.

He does not elaborate on exactly what he means by “biased” and “not based on facts”.

However, Naran clearly was careful not to state allegations as fact. After carefully studying the story I am convinced that it was indeed balanced and unbiased.

Also, Govender cannot expect the newspaper to verify these allegations, as that would only come as a result of the inquiry into his conduct that is still to materialise.

Story prematurely published

Govender says that as the matter was referred by the teachers to the department’s head office “it was premature for an article to have been published prior to the department’s investigation and findings”. He also complains that the story found him guilty even before the departmental process could begin.

However, newspapers are not constrained from publishing information about complaints which are lodged by teachers, or investigations which are in the process of being conducted by the education department. As long as the story is truthful, accurate and fair newspapers are free to publish – subject, of course, to compliance with all the principles of the Press Code.

The information in the story was based on a document that was submitted to the education department. An official of this department confirmed receipt thereof and said that the issue would be investigated. The newspaper was therefore justified to report on the matter.

Again, the careful way in which the story was written precluded any hint of Govender having been found guilty by the journalist. On the contrary.

No right to respond

Govender complains that the reporter did not give him the right to respond and did not tell him that he was writing a story.

However, he:

·         admits that he was contacted by someone who identified himself as a reporter working for the Sunday Tribune;

·         says that he was not in a position to verify the reporter’s credentials;

·         says he told the journalist that if he wished to discuss something with him, he should come to his office, which he did not do; and

·         says that, as an employee of the Department of Education, he was not permitted to comment.

The Sunday Tribune argues that if the principal wanted to verify the reporter’s credentials he could have phoned the newspaper to check. He did not. The editor also asks why Govender would want the reporter to ask him for comment if he was precluded from commenting.

The newspaper adds that the story was based on information obtained from a document and that the principal was given an opportunity to comment.

If the newspaper did not present these arguments, I would have done so myself.

Let me add, though, that Govender:

·         cannot expect the journalist to come to his office – telephonic conversations are normal journalistic practice;

·         says in later correspondence that it was up to the journalist to verify his credentials to him and argues that this was not his responsibility to do so – however, with respect, once a journalist has identified him- or herself as such over a telephone, how is that reporter expected to “verify” this on top of this identification?; and

·         should have expected Naran to do a story once he has phoned him for comment – why else would the reporter have contacted him?

I note that the story did not state that it attempted to obtain comment from Govender. It would have been helpful for readers to know that the newspaper made an attempt to obtain comment from him – but as he had not been in a position to respond, this omission was not in breach of the Press Code.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

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