Sbongiseni Ngcobo vs Daily Sun

Complainant: Sbongiseni Ngcobo

Lodged by: Sbongiseni Ngcobo

Article: Cops hold boss hostage! – Commander told to pack his bag and go

Author of article: Tebogo Moobi

Date: 18 November 2014

Respondent: Daily Sun

Complaint

Ngcobo is complaining about a story published in Daily Sun on 29 October 2014, headlined Cops hold boss hostage! – Commander told to pack his bag and go.

He complains that:

·         his name was spelt incorrectly;

·         the story incorrectly said that he got the “shock of his life” and that he had “run away”;

·         his photograph was taken and published without his consent; and

·         he was not asked for comment.

The text

The story, written by Tebogo Moobi, said that Col “Sthembiso” Ngcobo (the station commander) was taken hostage by his own men upon arrival at the Lenasia “cop shop”. This allegedly happened because members of the station “could no longer work under [him]”. They reportedly accused him of being abusive and insulting.

Analysis

Incorrect first name

Ngcobo complains that the story incorrectly referred to him as Col “Sthembiso” Ngcobo – while his first name is Shongiseni.

Daily Sun admits that it got Ngcobo’s first name wrong.

‘Shock of his life’, running away

Moobi wrote that Ngcobo “got the shock of his life” when he arrived at the police station; the report also referred to him as “the shocked station commander”. Moobi added that Ngcobo “quickly” put his bags in his car “and left before his officers could carry out their threat to remove his car with a forklift”.

Ngcobo denies that he got the shock of his life, and that he ran away.

The newspaper does not respond to this part of the complaint.

            My considerations

The first statement in question is that Ngcobo got the “shock of his life”. My immediate impression is that this was hyperbolic – the reporter probably did not know Ngcobo well enough to make such a judgment call. On the other hand, though, I can easily accept that Ngcobo did get a “shock”. Most people would be “shocked” under such circumstances.

Therefore, Moobi’s (unnecessary) spin on the ball does not amount to a breach of the Press Code.

Secondly, I note that the story did not say that Ngcobo had run away – it merely stated that he “quickly” put his bags in the car and left before the officers could carry out their threat. I submit that such actions on Ngcobo’s part would have been normal, given the reality of the officers’ actions and threats.

Picture

Two pictures were published with the story – a gathering of people who were described as “cops”, and a smaller picture of Ngcobo packing a bag.

Ngcobo complains that he asked the journalist not to take a picture of him – the journalist disrespected his wishes and dishonoured his Constitutional rights in the process. The reporter then went ahead and published his photograph without his consent.

Daily Sun denies that it has violated Ngcobo’s Constitutional rights.

            My considerations

A police office is a public place and Ngcobo is a public official – which means that the newspaper was not obliged to ask him for permission to take the picture or for permission to publish it. Moreover, the matter was clearly in the public interest.

Not asked for comment

Ngcobo complains that Daily Sun did not ask him for his side of the story. He adds that he was not allowed to speak to the press, which is why he did not respond to the reporter’s telephone calls.

Moalusi says the reporter did call Ngcobo to ask him for his comment, but the latter refused to speak to the newspaper. Daily Sun again contacted him after the story was published to arrange an interview with Ngcobo – which he again refused. The editor also notes that the story did quote the Gauteng police spokesman on this matter.

            My considerations

This part of Ngcobo’s complaint is puzzling. On the one hand he says the newspaper did not ask him for comment, while he admits that he refused to speak to the reporter – thereby in fact admitting that Moobi had indeed tried to get his side of the story.

Finding

Incorrect first name

The newspaper is in breach of Sect. 2.1 of the Press Code that says: “The press shall take care to report news…accurately…”

The rest of the complaint

The rest of the complaint is dismissed.

Sanction

Daily Sun is reprimanded for getting Ngcobo’s first name wrong. However, if I ask the newspaper to correct this mistake in text that reflects my finding, it would probably add to Ngcobo’s embarrassment (his word) in that the story would have to contextualize the mistake (read: repeat what had reportedly happened).

I therefore direct Daily Sun, whenever it reports on this matter again, to merely state that it got his first name wrong in the story that is in dispute.

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