Pamela Rubushe vs. Die Son
Sat, Sep 8, 2012
Ruling by the Deputy Press Ombudsman
September 8, 2012
This ruling is based on the written submissions of Ms P. Rubushe and Die Son newspaper.
Ms Pamela Rubushe complains about two stories in Die Son on 25 November and 1 December 2011 respectively. They were headlined Tweeling ‘gesteel’ – Ma word daarvan beskuldig dat sy dronk lewe skenk and Tweeling terug by huis – Antie sê sy’s nie ‘n kinderdief, sy het toestemming.
Regarding the first story, she complains that the journalist only obtained information from one party, resulting in an incorrect story that put the hospital in a bad light.
She also complains that the second story falsely stated that the police returned the twins to their mother.
The first story, written by Siyabonga Sesant, was about a mother who gave birth to twins at the Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth. Die Son said the mother’s twins were taken from her without permission and given to her sister and aunt.
The newspaper published a follow-up story (also written by Sesant) in which it was reported that the mother was re-united with her twins.
Presumably speaking on behalf of the hospital or social workers, Rubushe complains that the story was based on incorrect information and that the reporter only obtained information from the mother of the twins. Rubushe complains that Die Son accused the hospital and the social workers of participating in depriving the mother of her children. In fact, she says the mother was drunk, never told this hospital that she was married, and gave it her maiden name.
Rubushe explains that the hospital staff and social worker handed over the twins to the sister of the mother for safe-keeping because they were concerned about the drinking habits of the mother. The social workers returned the children to the mother after the mother demanded her children.
The story, she says, put the hospital and the social workers in a negative light when, in fact, they were looking after the best interests of the babies.
Die Son says that the newspaper:
· sent an e-mail to the office of Mr Thulane Madonsela, CEO of the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex, who was the only person authorised to comment on stories regarding state hospitals in Port Elizabeth;
· phoned Madonsela’s office about five times in one day, but was unable to obtain a response; and
· called Madonsela on his cell phone and left a message for him.
The newspaper explains: “On deadline, it was decided to run with the story without the hospital’s comment, as the hospital had more than enough time to comment on the matter, and Mr Sesant also made numerous attempts to get comment from them.”
Rubushe did not reply to the newspaper’s response to the complaint.
Firstly, Die Son made reasonable attempts to contact the person who was authorised to make public statements about the hospital.
Clearly, in the absence of any kind of response from the hospital, Die Son relied on the mother’s version – even if that was going to be one-sided. Besides, the story never presented the mother’s views as fact, but consistently as her opinion. The story also stated that it could not get comment from the hospital, as the Press Code requires.
The mother had a right to her opinion, and likewise the newspaper to report those views.
While the interests of children are understandably of paramount importance for social workers, the Press Code is concerned primarily with promoting excellence in journalism. As long as the journalist works within the ambit of the Code the report he/she writes is protected, notwithstanding the social or other concerns that may arise.
I also note that the hospital did comment on the issue after the publication of the story, and that Die Son consequently published that comment in its follow-up story.
Rubushe complains that in the second story falsely stated that the police returned the twins to their mother. She says the social worker “released” the children to the mother.
The newspaper does not respond to this part of the complaint.
It may be that the social worker “released” the children and that the police “returned” them to their mother. Be that as it may, this appears to be a technical point that is of no essential importance.
The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.
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.
Deputy Press Ombudsman