My analysis focuses on the story published on the 26 January titled “Blood on Selbourne Grounds” as this is the basis of the complainant’s argument, as well as the verdict of the Press Ombudsman.
The Daily Dispatch’s submission calls for attention to how the story developed and so it is fair to consider all published writing on the matter, and not only the article of the 26 January.
- Chapter 1 of the Press Code speaks about the Generation and gathering of news. Clause 1.1 reads: “take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”.
The initial story was obtained from Social Media. Samkelo Ngwenya, the spokesperson of Buffalo City Municipality, posted at 13:25 the following: “So white kids are beating up black kids in Selborne and the school wants to “manage” it, rha babethe umntana orongo (they have hit the wrong child)”.
The first story on the newspaper came on the same day of the incident, that is the 25 January at 17:55 where the headline on the Daily Dispatch Online read: “Selborne schoolyard beating causes racial tension” (Linden, 2019)[i].
Ombud Retief’s ruling, this story had a number of inaccuracies which are listed below:
- The sub-headline reads, “15 boys beat me up says pupil”. According to the ruling this was false. The journalist stated as fact hearsay from an aggrieved party. The journalist did not verify this and was therefore party to an assumption being reported as fact. There were in fact only four boys who were involved in the skirmish.
- The headline refers to the incident causing racial tension: It is unclear as to how this assumption was reached. The story’s allusion to 15 white learners beating up a black learner bought into a particular power paradigm of racial tension, creating a connotation of ‘white beating black’. In a polarised society, this makes the matter very sensitive and thus interesting news. However, after investigation it became clear that the aggressor in this case was not a group of white boys, but the black child that was accused of being a bully.
- The story is based on assumption because the paper trusted the source as he used to work for the Dispatch and thus did not verify his facts. A newspaper of the ought to have done so. Such high reputation come responsibility.
- The Dispatch is correct in that they have in dribs and drabs updated the story to add new information. However, the overall impression of the racial tension and thuggery and misleading reporting is still present.
The headline on the 25th reads clearly states that the incident is causing racial tension. In the climate where other stories were reported of racial incidents around the country, it was inevitable that thi incident would trend on social media.
The use of social media to look out for viral stories seems to be causing serious problems with journalism where it is no morer about objectivity but about being the first to report the story.
The story was not accurate as it proven by later events on what actually happened. All the facts that rendered the story of public interest turned out to be erroneous.
- 15 white kids beat up black boy
The story was not truthful as emerged. There was no mention of the cause of the incident. I fully concur with the Ombud saying that, “Stories shall be reported accurately”
- Clause 2 of the Code requires news to be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization;
The number of people who had beaten up the boy was exaggerated, even considering that this was a developing story – and the newspaper could have established this.
The argument by the Daily Dispatch that stories of or about children are told through their parents. This a distortion, as children can be asked questions as long their parents’ consent, and the media also takes care to protect them. A young boy his age could have answered simple questions lime how many people beat him up.
Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution says: “A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.” It would have been for the best interest of the child to have spoken to him as this would have been seeking justice to his claim of racial assault.
With distorted facts which the Daily Dispatch admits, it is the paper that made the story viral. By the time the Saturday paper on the 26 January hit the streets the story had already gone viral. The paper had implied.
- Racial Tension
- 15 Boys assault
- The school is portrayed as if it did not care.
This resulted in the families and being harassed by, among others, political organisations like EFF which prompted the school to suspend seven pupils as a safety precaution.
The publication of the exaggerated story may have led to the families fearing for their lives and the victim being marginalised and vulnerable.
The ruling by the Ombudsman should stand and the appeal dismissed.
[i] Linden, Aretha. 2019. Selborne Schoolyard Beating Causes Racial Tension. Daily Dispatch Online: https://www.dispatchlive.co.za/news/2019-01-25-selborne-schoolyard-beating-causes-racial-tension/?fbclid=IwAR1oJfdjARz2tVD62letg9MyNaocxxWHU5KE6GcFq8OMXhnjoKkhcbLluwQ)