Kiran Sukeri vs. Daily Dispatch


Fri, Jun 1, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

1 June 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Complainants

 

 

Dr Kiran Sukeri

 

 

Lodged by

 

 

Himself

 

Date of article

 

 

3 March 2018

 

Headline

 

 

Protest storm at psychiatric hospital

 

Page

 

 

2

 

Online

 

 

Yes

 

Author of article

 

 

Nonsindiso Qwabe

 

 

Respondent

 

 

Kariem Hassan, internal ombud of Daily Dispatch

Complaint                                            

Dr Kiran Sukeri, a psychologist, complains the story falsely claims that he was holding private sessions at the Tower Psychiatric hospital in Fort Beaufort.

He also complains about the:

·         statement that there was a “clash of personalities” behind damning allegations of poor conditions and standards of care at the psychiatric facility;

·         fact that he was not given a right of reply; and

·         reputational damage that the reportage has caused him and his practice.

The text

The article said that an official inspection of the hospital had gone awry when a group of protesters had tried to disrupt the visit by a health delegation. Health MEC Pumza Dyanti, who had led the delegation, reportedly stated that a clash of personalities had been behind damning allegations regarding poor conditions and standards of care at the psychiatric facility.

The delegation reportedly visited the hospital following claims by Sukeri (who “holds private sessions at the hospital”) that a crisis similar to the Life Esidimeni one could develop there.

The reporter quoted Dyanti as saying that there would be no such crisis in the Eastern Cape.

Analysis

Hassan says:

·         it is enlightening to know that Sukeri does not have private sessions at the hospital. However, he adds it is difficult to understand how this could be harming his reputation, as such practices are not uncommon;

·         the MEC made the statement about a “clash of personalities”, and it did not specifically name Sukeri in this regard;

·         Qwabe should have given Sukeri a right of reply regarding Dyanti’s comments; and

·         the claims against Sukeri were based on the reportage of his interview with City Press interview – he says this newspaper has heard his side of the story, to which the Department of Health was responding.

Sukeri explains that he was employed as a sessional psychiatrist and therefore it would have been illegal for him to conduct a private practice during “state time” – he says it is common knowledge that doctors are not allowed to run private practices at state facilities.

Therefore, he argues, the article implied that he had been:

·         doing work illegally, which is damaging to his reputation, as it questioned his ethics, professionalism and integrity amongst his peers and in the wider community; and

·         neglecting his duties as a state employed doctor. 

The doctor adds that the tone of the article implied that a “clash of personalities” involved him, following his interview with City Press. This, in turn, implied that he had a “problematic personality”, he argues.

He concludes that, as the article has portrayed him as unprofessional and uncaring, he should have been afforded an opportunity to respond.

My considerations

In light of the fact that Hassan has accepted Sukeri’s assurance that he has not been conducting a private practice at the facility, I take it that the statement in question is inaccurate – and indeed, harmful to the doctor. Given the legal position regarding private practices at state institutions, his reputation could only have been harmed, and unnecessarily so, by the reportage.

This made him a subject of critical reportage, which in turn necessitated comment from his side. It really is irrelevant whether another newspaper gave him a right of reply – Qwabe was duty-bound to do so.

The reference to a “clash of personalities’ came from Dyanti, and Qwabe was justified to report it as such. Given the context, and especially the fact that the article only mentioned one official at the hospital, it was reasonable to take it that Sukeri was part of such a clash. However, I do not share the latter’s views that this has necessarily implied that he had a problematic personality.

The journalist should in any case have asked Sukeri for comment on this matter as well, as Hassan has admitted.

Finding

Daily Dispatch was in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

·         1.1: “The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”;

·         1.8: “The media shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication”; and

·         “The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation.”

Seriousness of breaches                                              

Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of the Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1 – minor errors which do not change the thrust of the story), serious breaches (Tier 2), and serious misconduct (Tier 3).                                              

The breaches of the Press Code as indicated above are Tier 2 offences.

Sanction

Daily Dispatch is directed to:

·         apologise to Sukeri for:

o   inaccurately stating that he was conducting a private practice at the hospital;

o   the reputational damage that this has unnecessarily caused him and his practice; and

o   not giving him a right of reply to the above, as well as to MEC Dyanti’s statement that there had been a clash of personalities at the facility.

·         include comment from Sukeri in this text, if indeed he still wants to comment; and

·         publish the apology in the same space as the offending article:

o   in its print edition, also on page 2; and

o   online, linking the apology to the offending story.

Both headlines should include the words “apology” or “apologises”, and “Sukeri”.

The text should:

·         be published at the earliest opportunity after the time for an application for leave to appeal has lapsed or, in the event of such an application, after that ruling;

·     refer to the complaint that was lodged with this office;

·     end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”; and

·     be prepared by the publication and be approved by me.

Appeal

The 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.

Johan Retief

Press Ombud