Horst Peschkes vs Sunday Times

Complainant: Horst Peschkes

Article: Violence and anarchy cow men of steel – Bargaining council deal on metalworkers’ strike pleases few

Date: 13 September 2011

Respondent: Sunday Times

Ruling by the Deputy Press Ombudsman September 13, 2011 This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Horst Peschkes and the Sunday Times newspaper. Complaint Mr Horst Peschkes complains about a story in the Sunday Times (Business Times), published on 31 July 2011 and headlined Violence and anarchy cow men of steel – Bargaining council deal on metalworkers’ strike pleases few. Peschkes complains that the story inaccurately states that the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (Seifsa) was a dominant party in the bargaining council (regarding the end of a strike). Analysis The story, written by Chris Barron, is about the end of a strike in the steel and engineering industry. He quotes Mr Dave Carson, executive director of Seifsa (described as “the largest employer organization in the industry”), as saying that “Seifsa is the dominant party in the bargaining council. We represent 60% of the party firms in the bargaining council”. (The newspaper has subsequently published a statement that it wrongly referred to Seifsa as an “employer’s organization”. It said: “It is, in fact, a federation of employers’ organisations”, adding that it regretted the error.) I shall now look at the merits of the complaint: Dominant party in bargaining process The story quotes Carson as saying that Seifsa is “the dominant party in the bargaining council”. Peschkes complains that this is not true, as Seifsa was “not a party to the bargaining council”. Sunday Times furnished me with some documentation to prove that the statement in dispute is correct; Peschkes provided other documentation to prove the opposite. Now: If the story stated it as a fact that Seifsa was a party to the bargaining council, I would have had to study these documents in order to decide if the newspaper had reasonable grounds for such a statement or not. However, the story does not state it as a fact – it quotes Carson to this effect. The simple matter of the fact is that South Africans’ right to freedom of speech/expression as enshrined in our Constitution gave Carson the right to make this statement. In a real sense, he has the right to be wrong (if indeed he was). Likewise, the newspaper was justified in reporting what he said, irrespective of the question whether he was right or wrong. Furthermore, the whole article is based on an interview with Carson. It cannot reasonably be expected from journalists to check if everything that an interviewee reportedly said is factually correct. What Carson said is his responsibility and it was not unreasonable for the newspaper to have published his statement. In other words: While I can understand Peschke’s frustration – from his perspective – my mandate does not extend to deciding the truthfulness of an interviewee’s view. I would suggest that Peschkes writes a letter to the editor to state his views; it is then up to the editor to decide whether to publish it or not. Finding The complaint is dismissed. Sanction There is no sanction. Appeal Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, anyone of the parties 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 Khanyi@ombudsman.org.za. Johan Retief Deputy Press Ombudsman