Complainant: Revana Jacobs
Lodged by: Revana Jacobs
Article: Landdros se ‘wangedrag’ bekyk (Magistrate’s ‘misconduct’ examined
Author of article: Susan Cilliers
Date: 15 May 2015
Respondent: Marga Ley, internal ombudsman at Beeld
Jacobs is complaining about a story in Beeld of 19 March 2015, headlined Landdros se ‘wangedrag’ bekyk (Magistrate’s ‘misconduct’ examined).
She complains that she has never:
· been a magistrate in Klerksdorp – she was the senior prosecutor;
· worked in Pietermaritzburg – she worked in Howick, Camperdown and Hammersdale;
· laid charges against Mr Jacques Swanepoel – the charges were filed by the NPA; and
· been informed of the complaint against her by the Magistrate’s Commission.
Jacobs adds that the:
· journalist misspelt her first name – it is Ravana, and not Revana; and
· newspaper failed to contact her, or to request permission to use her photograph.
She concludes that the story has defamed her.
The story, written by Susan Cilliers, said the ethics committee of the Magistrate’s Commission was examining possible misbehavior by Jacobs, a magistrate in Mmabatho. The union Solidarity also asked the Minister of Justice in February to investigate her for filing twelve false charges of racism against a colleague (Swanepoel). Cilliers reported that the NPA had dismissed Swanepoel in 2011 on the basis of these charges. Solidarity then succeeded in getting him reinstated in 2014.
At the hearing before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), it reportedly came to light that Jacobs had laid false charges against Swanepoel because she had been desperate to return to her former place of work in Pietermaritzburg.
The journalist quoted Mr Johan Kruger, Solidarity’s deputy secretary, as saying that Jacobs had admitted to lying under oath.
The CCMA ordered the payment of 46 months’ salary to Kruger.
The newspaper’s response
· Jacobs worked in the Pietermaritzburg jurisdiction, which includes Howick, Camperdown and Hammersdale;
· The story did not say that she had been a magistrate in Klerksdorp;
· The CCMA case was about the fact that Swanepoel had been found guilty by the NPA because of her charges against him – paragraphs 49, 50 and 51 of the CCMA report stated pertinently that the NPA’s investigations came about as a result of her charges against Swanepoel;
· The commission found she had lied under oath (see par 53, 54 and 59 of the report) – “If she does not agree with them, she can contact them, not us”;
· The fact that Jacobs was not aware of the complaint against her, does not make it untrue;
· The reporter confirmed the information with the commission, “but they did not give us anything specific on which we could ask…Jacobs [for]comment”; and
· The newspaper was not compelled to ask comment from someone who had been found guilty by a court or an official institution.
The internal ombudsman accepts that Cilliers has misspelt Jacobs’s first name. However, she adds that the name was spelt wrongly in the documents at the reporter’s disposal.
Ley’s arguments are all sound and I do not have to elaborate on them, save to say that the newspaper did not have to ask Jacobs’s permission to publish her picture. Also, the statement that she had lied under oath was not stated as fact, but was attributed to Kruger.
I therefore cannot agree with Jacobs that the story has unnecessarily tarnished her reputation.
The complaint is dismissed, save for the mistake about Jacob’s first name. This is in breach of Section 2.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall take care to report news…accurately…”
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 mentioned above is a Tier 1 offence.
Beeld is cautioned for this mistake, and is directed to correct it.
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.