Siyabonga Slikour Metane vs Sunday World

Complainant: Siyabonga Slikour Metane

Lodged by: Nota Baloyi

Article: ‘Blacks are fools’ banned

Author of article:  Ngwako Malatji

Date: 3 July 2012

Respondent: Sunday World

Complaint

Hip-hop artist Siyabonga Slikour Metane (Slikour) complains about a story in the Sunday World on 29 April 2012 and headlined ‘Blacks are fools’ banned.

He complains that the story falsely said that the SACB banned his song called “Blacks are fools”.

Analysis

The intro to the story, written by Ngwako Malatji, reads: “The SABC has iced hip-hop artist Slikour’s controversial song Blacks are Fools as it is deemed to fan racial flames.” The article also says that SABC1 has removed it from its play-list, adding that “the ban applies to all the corporation’s telly and radio stations”. Malatji quotes SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago as follows: “It has not been played on SABC1 or any other radio station since the outcry because our policy stipulates that we should not play anything that promotes hate speech…”

The headline states that the song was banned. When read in conjunction with the story, it becomes clear that this “ban” refers to the SABC.

Baloyi complains that the SABC did not ban the song. He quotes Kganyago as follows: “If a song is derogatory, incites violence or has swear words, we will not play it. That has not happened with Slikour’s song.”

However, the Sunday World says that the story was based on an interview with Kganyago (see the quote in the story, above). This statement by him, the newspaper argues, is tantamount to a ban.

In later correspondence the newspaper states that Kganyago has told the reporter that he stood by his comment, “and pointed out that the fact that he has not asked for its retraction testifies to its accuracy”. Malatji adds the only time that the song was subsequently played was when presenters sought public comment on the controversial song. “Since then the song has not enjoyed any airplay on SABC stations.”

Malatji also presented me with a copy of his notes that seems to support his reportage.

Baloyi replies that the song has been played after the story was published and reiterates that there has been no directive handed out from SABC management to radio stations and TV channels to stop playing the song and/or the video.

This left me with an impossible yes-no situation – the one party says that that Kganyago said the song was banned; the other party maintains he said the opposite. The only way forward for me was to do the rather unusual, namely to ask Kganyago himself.

He told me that neither he nor the SABC has issued a directive for the song to be banned – he explained that each and every station has to make its own decision as to whether to play a certain song or not. He said that these stations are required to base their decisions on the general principal that they should not play songs that promote hate speech.

Kganyago added that he explained this to Malatji, who neglected to state this in the story.

Let me now look at his quote again. It reads: “It has not been played on SABC1 or any other radio station since the outcry because our policy stipulates that we should not play anything that promotes hate speech…” Kganyago said that this is correct. However, it should not be interpreted in the context of a ban (as Malatji clearly did), but rather in the context of the statement that every station should decide for itself, based on the general principle regarding hate speech.

The rest of the statements mentioned in my first paragraph (above) do not say it directly, but they do imply that the SABC has banned the song. This is substantiated by the newspaper’s own argument that Kganyago’s words were “tantamount to a ban” (by the SABC).

I therefore conclude that the story and headline misleadingly imply that the SABC has directed all its stations to remove the song from their play-lists (read: “ban”). This is not only due to the use of the word “ban”, but also to the fact that Malatji neglected to state or imply that individual stations decide for themselves, based on the principle not to play songs that promote hate speech.

However, I am convinced that Malatji did not get this wrong on purpose and believe that there was no malice on his part. True, he should have been more careful with his assumptions – but I think that he merely did not take the context (individual stations making their own decisions) into account.

This is the point: If Kganyago’s quoted words are interpreted in isolation and this context is either not taken into account or misunderstood, they may be interpreted in the way that Malatji. This is probably what has happened here.

Two examples of these assumptions are:
  • Malatji’s argues that no SABC station has since played Silkour’s song – but this does not necessarily imply that the SABC has banned it (it could have been banned by individual stations), and also: not all songs that are not played for a period of time are banned; and
  • Kganyago’s quoted words do not necessarily imply a ban, as Malatji suggests.

Journalists should be wary of making assumptions and of jumping to conclusions.

Believing that Malatji’s mistake was an honest one, I am not going to insist on an apology. Still, a mistake remains a mistake, which needs to be corrected.

Finding

The misleading implication in the story and the headline that the SABC has issued a directive to ban the song from all its stations is in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.”

The neglect to mention that individual stations make their own decision as to whether to play a song or not (and that these their decisions should be based on the general principal that they should not play songs that promote hate speech) amounts to a material omission and therefore led to an unbalanced story. This is in breach of Art. 1.2 of the Code which reads: “News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by…material omissions…”

Sanction
Sunday World is:
  • reprimanded for omitting the information that every station has to make its own decision as to whether to play a song or not;
  • directed to publish a correction to the story’s misleading implication that the SABC has issued a directive to ban Slikour’s song from all stations;
  • cautioned to be wary of making assumptions and of jumping to conclusions; and
  • directed to publish the text below.
Beginning of text

The SABC did not ban hip-hop singer Siyabonga Slikour Metane’s song “Blacks are fools”, as the Sunday World have implied earlier.

This comes after Slikour lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman about a story on 29 April 2012, headlined ‘Blacks are fools’ banned. The story, written by Ngwako Malatji, said that the song was banned because it was deemed to fan racial flames and that it degraded blacks.

Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief found that the SABC never directed such a ban, as it was up to each and every individual station to make its own decision which songs to play. The implication that the SABC has banned the song amounted to an untruthful, inaccurate and unfair story, he said.

He also reprimanded us for having omitted the information about individual stations having to make their own decisions.

However, Retief added that Malatji’s interpretation of the SABC’s spokesperson statement (that neither SABC1 nor any other station has played the song since the outcry because its policy stipulated that it should not play songs that promote hate speech – thinking that this amounted to a ban by the SABC) was understandable as he clearly did not take the context of individual stations making their own decisions into account. He said that he believed this was an honest mistake and that there was no malice on Malatji’s part.

Retief cautioned us to be wary of assumptions or jumping to conclusions.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2012) for the full finding.

End of text
Appeal

Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman

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