Solal Technologies vs Beeld

Complainant: Solal Technologies

Lodged by: Colin Levin

Article: ‘Bakterie lei tot griep’: Firma gekap (‘Bacteria results in flu’: Company criticized)

Author of article: Antoinette Pienaar

Date: 13 May 2013

Respondent: Beeld

Complaint

Solal Technologies complains about a story in Beeld on 16 November 2012, headlined ‘Bakterie lei tot griep’: Firma gekap (‘Bacteria results in flu’: Company criticized).

Solal complains that the story:

·         favoured a protagonist in the story (the Advertising Standards Authority), which resulted in an unfair and unbalanced story; and

·         did not reflect its comments (bias).

Analysis

The story, written by Antoinette Pienaar, said that Solal was in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) because of its claim that influenza can be caused by bacteria. The ASA reportedly found that Solal should stop its claim that one of its products can prevent this illness. Pienaar also wrote that Solal could not find an independent source to substantiate its claim.

Favouring a protagonist

Solal complains that the story favoured a protagonist in the story (the ASA), which resulted in an unfair and unbalanced article.

Beeld replies that the story reflected both sides of the complaint to the ASA, as well as its finding. “Therefore, the story was fair, factually correct and balanced.”

In Solal’s response to Pienaar, it stated that the:

·         ASA was not entitled to regulate medicines advertising and that it was misleading the public (in various ways);

·         ASA had a vendetta against the company; and

·         company used the word “flu” to also include any of several diseases caused by bacteria or viruses (such as “flu symptoms”).

Here are my considerations: I am not entertaining the complaint with regards to the ASA (the first two bullets above) – that body does not subscribe to the Press Code, the newspaper does. Besides, the story in dispute was about a finding by the ASA, and not about the pending court case between Solal and the advertising body. I therefore do not blame the newspaper for not reporting on that part of Solal’s response. I suppose that Beeld would cover that court case, which is when the newspaper has a chance to comprehensively report on the matter.

Besides, it was not necessary to mention it, as the story was about the ASA’s finding – the article did not intend to evaluate which of the two bodies were correct.

I therefore do not believe that the story favoured the ASA.

In addition, I certainly do not intend to get mixed up in the merit of ASA’s findings or in any pending court case.

I am dealing with the last bullet in the next sub-section. Also, see my comment below under “General remark”.

Solal’s comment; bias

Solal complains that the story omitted important information that it gave the newspaper (it refers this office to correspondence that it furnished Pienaar with prior to publication). It says that it was unfair, improper and abusive for the journalist to have sought its comments “on such short notice, and then not to use them at all”.

The company complains that Pienaar was biased, and mentions that this was not the first time that she wrote “distortive pieces” about Solal.

Please note that the complaint was about a specific story. I therefore have no mandate to make a ruling about the reporter’s earlier stories.

Secondly, a newspaper is not obligated to report comment that it sought prior to publication – it is always up to its editorial staff to decide what information is relevant and important. If such information is omitted, this invariably leads to unfair and unbalanced reporting. I therefore need to decide if the information that was omitted amounted to material omissions (see Art. 1.2 of the Press Code that was in place at the time of publication).

So, here are the salient facts, and my interpretation thereof:

Solal’s comment to Beeld          What the story reported               My comment

Solal has instituted legal proceedings against the ASA for fraudulently pretending that they were authorized to regulate medicine advertising. Solal’s contention was that the ASA has no jurisdiction over the company’s advertising; the court case was also mentioned.  

 

Fair.

Solal then comments on a list of examples of this “vendetta”. No mention of this. In light of the above, it was fair for the newspaper to have omitted these examples.
Solal said that it used the word “flu” to include influenza and also any of several diseases caused by bacteria or viruses, such as “flu symptoms”. The story quoted Prof Joy Jobson as saying that there is no scientific proof that Solal’s product can stop influenza or symptoms related to that.

 

Solal does not deny Jobson’s statement that its product cannot stop influenza; also, the story did use the words “or symptoms related to that”. Secondly, it is true that the advert used the word “flu” – but really, in normal parlance that word means “influenza”, which is how the ordinary reader would probably have understood it.
Solal made several allegations against the ASA. No mention in the story. This may be relevant when reporting the court case, but that was not the case with regards to this story.

I can only conclude that the story was fair and balanced as it reflected all the relevant points raised by Solal. It follows that I do not believe that ASA’s views were taken as gospel (as Solal alleges), and that its comments were “simply ignored”.

General remark

The issues that the story omitted (which Solal complains about) should be raised when the newspaper covers the court case. These will be relevant then, which was not the case with the story in dispute (as the gist of the article was to report on the ASA’s finding).

Finding

The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

Appeal

Please note that 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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