Wendy Williams vs Die Son

Complainant: Wendy Williams

Lodged by: Wendy Williams

Article: Vrae oor Khoisan se ‘koningin’ (Questions about Khoisan’s ‘queen’)

Author of article: Una Cupido

Date: 22 July 2015

Respondent: Edwin Lombard, assistant editor of Die Son

Present at the meeting were Williams, member of the Western Cape Khoisan Reference Group; King Khoebaha Cornelius, head of the Royal House of the Khoisan Nation; Captain Benjamin Marsala, Bushman leader in the Western Cape; Mr Jacobus Titus, Deputy Bushman leader in the Western Cape; Ms Chantal Bruckner, senior headwoman of the National Khoi and San; and others.

Lombard represented the newspaper.

The members of the Panel of Adjudicators who assisted the Ombudsman were Mahmood Sanglay (press representative) and Neville Woudberg (public representative).

Complaint

Williams, a member of the Western Cape Khoisan Reference Group, is complaining about a story in Die Son of 14 June 2015, headlined Vrae oor Khoisan se ‘koningin’ (Questions about Khoisan’s ‘queen’). She complains, she says, “as a representative of a furious nation of Khoi and San people”.

Williams complains that the:

·         journalist was biased and inaccurate (details below), by presenting the prestigious inauguration of queen Katrina Esau in a negative and demeaning manner;

·         story was out of context (details below);

·         article bordered on hate speech and did not show special concern for a vulnerable group (details below); and

·         headline implied that Katrina’s position was questionable and that she had laid claim to a position to which she was not entitled.

She also questions the credibility of the newspaper’s sources, and concludes that the dignity, reputation and the privacy of the Khoisan people had been tarnished.

The text

The story, written by Una Cupido, mainly reported the views of sources saying that Khoisan organisations questioned Esau’s (82) legitimacy as queen in the Western Cape. She had been inaugurated a week earlier.

The journalist quoted Ms Tania Kleinhans-Cedras, secretary-general of the Institution for the Restoration of Aborigines of South Africa (Irasa), as saying that the Khoisan never had any queens or kings. Kleinhans-Cedras reportedly questioned the legitimacy of Pres Jacob Zuma’s approval of the inauguration. “Kingship and monarchies are carried over from generation to generation. It is not something that you receive from a president.”

This source also warned against political strategies: “[Zuma’s approval] means that you do not need bloodlines. You only need the president’s approval. If you have political affiliation, your kingship is recognized. This is disturbing and takes away the focus from the realities of what is happening to our people. This can be a smokescreen. We are not even recognized in the Constitution. Government is misleading us. Over what land should the queen reign? Our people should wake up.”

Other (similar) opinions were also reported.

At the end of the story Cupido quoted Mr Charles Tities, chairman of the Western N//n# community, who supported Esau’s position as queen.

The complaint in more detail

Williams says Die Son was the only newspaper that reported negatively on the inauguration. “Katrina Esau is a recognized and highly honoured leader of the Boesman people… She is one of four people still able to speak the ancient language. [She] selflessly teaches anyone willing to learn the language. She is a true example of a great leader and she only has pure intentions for her family and her nation at large.”

She says the story came across as advocating hatred based on race or ethnicity, and that it constituted incitement to cause harm (which amounted to hate speech). The article also did not show special concern for a vulnerable group.

Williams argues that the story was based on hearsay and gossip. “[I] will say that dignity, reputation and privacy should always take precedence over gossip, hearsay and incitement (to cause harm)…”

Regarding the headline, Williams states that Esau was widely respected and regarded as a matriarch of her society – in contrast to the implication in the heading that she had been laying claim to a position to which she was not entitled.

The reference to “political affiliations” implied, she said, that Esau had been recognized for her political contribution and not her noble work within her community. “There is no way any person will have kingship due to political affiliations. This is a dangerous statement to make within a customary atmosphere.”

She added that Esau had never implied that she would reign over any land. “Katrina is a humble lady, who only has her family’s and community’s issues at heart… I want to see cleared the fact that Katrina Esau is not cheapening the memory of khoi by claiming a title due to political affiliations, and that we do indeed have kingship within our bloodlines. We were not referred to as kings but [as]KHOEBEHAA.”

In conclusion Williams says, “We as the Khoisan nation are busy revitalizing our kingship which died out most probably in the 1700’s, and therefore we cannot allow false or negative stories to be spread as we are already experiencing confusion and [we]don’t need [the]media to add to this confusion.”

Die Son’s response

Lombard says the story did not cast aspersions on the individual, but rather dealt with the title. In the process Cupido quoted several people. “There are different opinions on whether the Khoisan historically had kings and queens and the article merely quotes some of those people.”

He also notes that in the last two paragraphs Cupido quoted a person who commented favourably on the individual.

Lombard concludes that “[n]o two groups seem to agree on any of the issues around the Khoisan. So depending who you talk to, the opinions are as varied as the different groups within the Khoisan”

Williams’s reply

Williams says she finds Lombard’s comment that no two groups seem to agree, to be an “interesting statement” – as he tends to concentrate on one group only.

She questions the legitimacy of the newspaper’s sources and asks if they truly reflect Khoisan opinions.

Williams also argues that the story did hint of misrepresentation on Esau’s part. “The very heading of the article says it all… It should then have read ‘questions about Khoisan queen’s title’, if the individual was not in question.”

The outcome

After extensive deliberations, consensus was reached that the story in question was unbalanced in that by far the majority of the article mainly reflected only one voice, namely that of a section of the Khoi community – while in fact, the story was about the Bushman queen.

It was agreed that Die Son will publish a follow-up article in which this imbalance would be pointed out, also acknowledging that the story and the headline were unfair and inaccurate (the queen was portrayed as that of the Khoisan, while she was only the San queen) and that it unnecessarily tarnished the integrity of the queen. This time, the views of Bushman leaders should be included in the text.

This would be an implicit apology.

The text, or a blurb, should give the context of the follow-up article, stating that the office of the Press Ombudsman has received two complaints about the same story, and that a hearing was held in Cape Town.

The story should be published on the same page as the offending one, and at the top of that page.

The text shall be written by Die Son (but not by Cupido), and be presented to the panel for approval. The panel shall seek the views of the complainants prior to publication. The text should end with the words, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.”

The text should also be published on the newspaper’s website.

The headline should reflect the content of the text. A heading such as “Matter of Fact”, or something similar, is not acceptable.

The only matter there was no consensus on, was if the apology should be explicit. The complainants asked for it; the newspaper refused. The panel then had to make a decision. We decided against an explicit apology, with one member raising a dissenting voice.

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 Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Mahmood Sanglay (press representative)

Neville Woudberg (public representative)

Johan Retief (press ombudsman)