Zimo Weber vs Die Son

Complainant: Zimo Weber

Lodged by: Zimo Weber

Article: Geld in Water – Belofte by duur cleaner-kursus glo in drein af (Money in Water – Promise at expensive cleaner course allegedly down the drain).

Author of article:  Nicola Daniels

Date: 16 April 2014

Respondent: Die Son

COMPLAINT

Weber, the owner of a training centre for cleaners, is complaining about a story published on page 5 in Die Son of 14 March 2014, headlined Geld in Water – Belofte by duur cleaner-kursus glo in drein af (Money in Water – Promise at expensive cleaner course allegedly down the drain).

She complains that the story inaccurately stated that:

  • one of her students could not get a job;
  • she had threatened the newspaper with the police; and
  • her course was not registered as a Seta.

ANALYSIS

The story, written by Nicola Daniels, said that Ms Erika Kramm from Bellville paid more than R1 000 to attend a cleaning course at the Northern Training Centre – with the promise of getting a job afterwards, which had reportedly not transpired.

Not getting a job

The story said that Kramm was unhappy as Weber could not get her a job, despite promises to this effect. Daniels also reported the latter as saying that Kramm had a bad reputation; and quoted Weber as saying that Kramm had had a job, but that she had (willingly) resigned from it.

Weber complains that it is not true that she did not try to get Kramm a job. She claims that Kramm is lazy and argues that nobody is willing to take her on. She also mentions that she gave Kramm three numbers of potential employers to call – which she never did. (She provided me with the names of these three people and their telephone numbers.)

Lombard replies that Weber never gave Daniels names of people who could shed light on Kramm’s work ethic. “Because the reporter could not establish the bona fides of these people, she felt it would not be correct to take their word over that of Ms. Kramm.” (my emphasis) He also argues that Daniels gave Weber a fair opportunity to respond, and adds that her views were adequately reflected in the story.

My considerations

The operative words in Lombard’s response are “could not”. I do not believe that those words are correct. If the journalist had asked Weber for the contact numbers of people who could corroborate her version of the story, she certainly would have done so, as it would have strengthened her case.

The fact that Weber did not supply Daniels with such contact numbers is irrelevant – it was up to the journalist to ask her for this information. I appreciate the fact that Daniels did report Weber’s side of the story. In this case, however, that was not enough. In the end, the story boiled down to two versions – that of Kramm and the other of Weber. If Daniels did contact the people mentioned by Weber, there would in all likelihood not have been a story, as they were likely to corroborate Weber’s argument that she did try to get Kramm a job (or else Weber would not have supplied me with sources’ names and numbers).

The Press Code is quite clear about this. Section 2.4 says: “Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified …”

I do believe that it was practicable to verify Kramm’s claims, and note that Daniels did not do so.

This leads to another section of the Code that speaks of fairness.

I therefore conclude that the story indeed did Weber and her business some unnecessary harm – a conclusion of which I have no reasonable doubt.

Threatening with the police

Daniels wrote that Weber threatened Die Son’s sister publication, Son op Sondag, with the police.

Weber denies this.

Lombard says that he takes the word of his reporter, and says that the latter felt it was an intimidation tactic “to scare her off the story”.

My considerations

This leaves me between a rock and a hard place. I have only the word of Weber on the one hand, and that of Daniels on the other. The likelihood of finding the truth at a hearing on this issue is rather slim, as one of the parties would have to admit lying.

I am therefore not in a position to reach a finding on this matter.

Course not registered as a Seta

The story quoted Weber as saying that her course was registered with Swiftreg as a Seta. However, Daniels also reported that when Son op Sondag phoned Swiftreg, they told her that they did not register Setas.

Weber says that, if Swiftreg did state that her course was not registered, they lied to the newspaper.

Lombard replies that the question is not if Weber is registered with Swiftreg, but rather as a Seta. He reiterates that Weber told the journalist that she was registered as a Seta – but that Swiftreg denied this.

My considerations

My question is not if Daniels was correct – she merely reported what Swiftreg had to say. The latter had the right to say whatever it said, and Daniels was within her rights to report that view.

FINDING

Not getting a job

Die Son is in breach of Section 2.4 of the Press Code, which states: “Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified …”

Not having done so amounted to unfair reporting, and the newspaper is therefore also in breach of Section 2.1: “The press shall take care to report news … fairly.”

Threatening with the police

There is no finding on this matter.

Course not registered as a Seta

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

SANCTION

Die Son is directed to apologise to Weber for not corroborating its information, which in all probability resulted in unfair reporting – causing unnecessary harm to her and her company.

The newspaper is directed to publish this finding and sanction on page 5, above the fold (where the story in question appeared).

It should provide me with the text prior to publication. Please add to the text: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.”

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 for the appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman