Nu-Shifa Hospital vs. North Coast Rising Sun/Overport Sun


Fri, Dec 7, 2012

 

Ruling by the Deputy Press Ombudsman

December 7, 2012

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr E.M. Asmal, for the Nu-Shifa Hospital, and the Overport Sun newspaper.

Complaint

The Nu-Shifa Hospital complains about a story on page 3 in Overport Sun on 14 August 2012 and headlined Nurse drops newborn baby at Nu-Shifa Hospital.

The hospital complains that the story falsely alleged that hospital management:

·         refused to comment; and

·         would not have disclosed an incident if the father of his new-born baby had not been present.

Analysis

The story was about a nurse who allegedly dropped a new-born baby who was then taken to intensive care. The father of the baby was present when the incident occurred.

Refused to comment’

The story said: “When a nurse finally did come to the telephone she refused to provide any details or (to) clarify any of the allegations.” It also stated that the hospital management had “refused to comment”.

The hospital denies that it would have covered-up the incident. It adds that even prior to the story being published a full formal investigation and incident report was being prepared. It also argues that the reporter contacted the ward directly, instead of the management team “which we all know as being the correct method of approach”.

The reporter says that when she contacted the hospital’s reception she was put through to the switchboard and was then transferred to the maternity section. She said she made it clear to reception why she was calling and she was told to speak to the maternity staff. After several attempts a nurse finally told her that she would ask the matron to call back the reporter – which did not happen.

The reporter’s explanation to reception was sufficient for reception to have realised that the matter should have been escalated to management. The reporter stated that she had explained the nature of the call.  The number of calls the reporter made is not disputed nor the fact that the reporter was told that the matron would call her back.

The reporter cannot be faulted for attempting – and failing – to get comment from the hospital.

Would not have disclosed

The story quoted sources who said that a new-born baby was “definitely dropped by a nurse” and had the parent not been present the matter would have been “hidden”.

The hospital says that prior to the publishing of the article the hospital had initiated an investigation into the incident and management had been informed. It denies that it would have “hidden” the incident.

The issue relating to an alleged cover-up was based on information from unnamed sources. This is a serious allegation and independent verification is usually necessary when unnamed sources are relied upon.

The question is whether the newspaper was justified in quoting the sources’ allegation. Note that the mere fact that a source or sources made an allegation does not by default justify a newspaper to publish that allegation. An allegation can be defamatory, in which case the publication of that allegation is also defamation.

This was clearly baseless speculation, without any foundation whatsoever. As there was no evidence to support this allegation, the reportage was not fair to the hospital management and probably caused unnecessary harm to its image and integrity.

Finding

Refused to comment’

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Would not have disclosed

This is in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall be obliged to report news…fairly.”

Sanction

The newspaper is directed to:

·         apologise to the hospital’s management for unfairly reporting sources’ baseless allegations that it would have hidden the matter had the father not been present when a nurse dropped his baby; and

·         publish the text below on page 3.

Beginning of text

Overport Sun apologises to the management of Nu-Shifa Hospital for unfairly reporting sources’ baseless allegations that it would have hidden the matter had the father not been present when a nurse dropped his baby.

This comes after the hospital lodge a complaint with the Press Ombudsman.

The story, published on 14 August 2012 and headlined Nurse drops newborn baby at Nu-Shifa Hospital, was about a nurse who allegedly dropped a new-born baby who was then taken to intensive care. The father of the baby was present when the incident occurred.

Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said that we were not justified in publishing sources’ allegations that the hospital would have covered-up the matter if the father had not been there. He noted that the mere fact that a source or sources made an allegation does not by default justify a newspaper to publish that allegation. An allegation can be defamatory, in which case the publication of that allegation is also defamation.

“This was clearly baseless speculation, without any foundation whatsoever. As there was no evidence to support this allegation, the reportage was not fair to the hospital management and probably caused unnecessary harm to its image and integrity,” he said.

The hospital also complained that we wrote that it refused to comment. Retief dismissed this part of the complaint.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

End of text

Appeal

Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Deputy Press Ombudsman