Press Council 24 March 2015
I have won my appeal vs the Sunday Times and they must apologise not only on front page but also on street posters – which is unprecedented.
A luta continua!
Ronnie Kasrils, member of the United Front National Working Committee and ex-minister in the ANC government, won his appeal to the Press Council of South Africa.
Kasrils made complaints against a 7 September 2014 front-page article by the Sunday Times. Kasrils complained, about the Sunday Times poster, “Spy tapes expose Kasrils”, the headline, “Spy tapes ‘illegal’ and expose Kasrils”, and the content of the report.
The Press Ombudsman, Johan Retief, dismissed Kasrils’ complaint about the content of the report.
However, he found the Sunday Times headline was in breach of Sect. 10.1 of the Press Code that reads: “Headlines…shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report…in question.”
He further found that Kasrils’s reputation had been damaged unnecessarily in breach of Section 4.7 of the Press Code: “The press shall exercise care and consideration involving…reputation…” but he dismissed a complaint by Kasrils about malice and sensationalism.
Sunday Times was directed to:
- apologise to Kasrils for saying as fact in the headlines that the “spy tapes” had “exposed” him (as the mastermind behind the manipulation of the NPA), thereby inaccurately, unfairly and unnecessarily harming his reputation;
- retract the mastermind statement; and
- publish the apology and retraction on its front page, above the fold.
Retief made no finding on the poster published by the Sunday Times and whether it had breached Clause 10.2 of the Press Code: “Posters shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the reports in question.”
However, the content of the posters is the same as that in the headline. The Ombudsman had his own reasons why he did not order the apology to be put in the street posters; namely, for economic reasons and that he had consistently refused this. Clearly, therefore, he had found the content of the poster to be as offensive as the headline and to be in contravention of article 10.1, otherwise his mind would not have engaged the issue of sanction in relation to the posters.
In any event, the question of whether or not what appeared in the posters fell foul of the code and was harmful to the dignity and reputation of the appellant was intensively argued before us.
The Sunday Times appealed the ruling of the Press Ombudsman.
Kasrils cross appealed saying the apology needed to be published on the newspaper’s posters as well as on its front page.
The Chair of the Appeals Panel of the Press Council of South Africa, Mr Justice Bernard Ngoepe, on 15 December 2014; dismissed the application by the Sunday Times.
However, he granted the application by Kasrils to appeal against the Ombudsman’s Ruling not to order that the publication of the apology and retraction be on the street posters.
The Appeal Panel Hearing focused narrowly on this issue; i.e. should the apology by the Sunday Times be published on its posters as well as on its front page, or was there some other appropriate remedy available?
The chairman of the Appeals Panel of the Press Council, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, acting in terms of Clause 4.3 of the Complaints Procedure, appointed a panel consisting of himself and four other members, comprising three public members (Dr Simphiwe Sesanti, Ms Carol Mohlala, Mr Peter Mann) and one press member (Mr Mahmood Sanglay) of the Panel of Adjudicators.
The Appeals Panel hearing was conducted on the 13th March, 2015.
While the Appeals Panel recognised that publishing an apology in the posters had not been imposed before, they did not believe that directing the respondent to do so would necessarily create a precedent for all cases. Each case would depend on its own facts and circumstances. In any case, creating a precedent that an apology can never be made in a poster would in itself be problematic; it could, for example, lead to impunity.
In the present case the issue of spy tapes had widely been in the media and the context well known. Importantly, while already acknowledging that Mr Kasrils was, and perhaps still is, a public figure, to state wrongly and as a fact that a former Minister of Intelligence was “exposed” by the “spy tapes” in the manner explained, makes the case unique.
To construe this as giving favourable treatment to Mr Kasrils would amount to a serious misunderstanding of the facts of the case.
The Ruling of the Appeals Panel
The appeal succeeds, and the Ombudsman’s Ruling not to order the publication of the apology in the posters is set aside.
We order The Sunday Times, in its next available edition, to publish a poster apologising to Kasrils.
Such apology must include the words: “Spy Tapes” and “apology” or “apologise” as well as the words “to Kasrils”.
In terms of our procedure, The Sunday Times can write the apology itself and refer it to the Press Appeals Panel for approval. We would recommend words similar to
“Spy Tapes – we apologise to Kasrils”.
We order The Sunday Times, in addition, to publish the front page, above-the-fold apology as ordered by the Press Ombudsman on the same day/in the same editions of the newspaper as the poster apology.
We order that the same number of posters as those that carried the words, Spy Tapes expose Kasrils, are printed in the normal Sunday Times poster format – carrying the masthead of the newspaper.
We order that the distribution of the apology poster is the same as the distribution of the offending poster and that it is displayed with equal prominence.