Ms K. Barolsky vs Sunday World

Complainant: Ms K Barolsky

Article: Zola abused us – Ex-lovers say TV star is a woman-basher

Date: 26 January 2010

Respondent: Sunday World

Ms Kathy Barolsky lodged a complaint at the Press Ombudsman’s office against Sunday World’s article “Zola abused us – Ex-lovers say TV star is a woman-basher” (1 November 2009).
Her complaint consists of a list of statements:
  • The newspaper printed a report about her alleged abuse by Mr Zola Dlamini without interviewing or consulting her, resulting in an unbalanced report;
  • She disputes the statement that she could not be reached for comment at the time of going to the press. The newspaper retrieved a picture of her from a website, where her contact details are easily obtainable, she says;
  • The content of the story was not verified and it therefore relied significantly on rumour and supposition;
  • The claim that she had withdrawn charges that she laid against Zola is disputed (instead, she had been granted a protection order against him);
  • The statement that the “Men don’t rape” advertising campaign went ahead in spite of her allegations was false; instead, Zola was withdrawn from the campaign as a result of her informing the relevant organisation of his doings;
  • In relation to Art. 1.8 of the Press Code (“The identity of rape victims and victims of sexual violence shall not be published without the consent of the victim”), she states that the article was published without her consent or permission, violating her right to privacy;
  • The sidebar entitled “Catherine speaks out” – an on-line article she wrote the previous year for the organisation Gender Links – does not mention Zola’s name, and the heading gives the impression that she had identified Zola in that article. The heading also implies that she had willingly given the article to Sunday Word; and
  • The headline on the front page gives the impression that the newspaper spoke directly to her – which was not the case.
 On the other side
The Sunday World replies that the story is accurate in every respect. Its only comment on the headline (“Zola abused us”) is that it is ambiguous. The reporter tried many times to get hold of Barolsky, but could not get through to the number at his disposal. However, the newspaper did get access to a complaint by Barolsky to the police in which she claimed abuse by Zola.
Furthermore, the police confirmed that Barolsky’s case against Zola was withdrawn. In addition, nowhere in the story is Barolsky identified as a victim of sexual abuse.
The newspaper argues that it did not need Barolsky’s “permission” to publish.  It says Zola is a public figure – and when he is accused of abuse, it is in the public’s interest to know. It also counters by saying police charge sheets are public documents.
We shall consider Barolsky’s complaints one by one.
By its own admission Sunday World published the article in question without Barolsky being interviewed or consulted. But should this necessarily stop the newspaper from publishing the story? Does this necessarily result in unbalanced reporting, as Barolsky alleges?
No – especially when an article makes it clear, as this one does, that a specific person could not be reached for comment. This happens all the time; the Ombudsman’s office accepts the newspaper’s assurance that it did try to contact her.
The content of the story was sufficiently verified in that Sunday World got access to the complaint she made to the police (in which she claimed Zola abused her) as well as her own online article (“Catherine speaks out”).
Barolsky says she did not withdraw the charges against Zola. However, both the police and Zola told the newspaper that Barolsky’s charges against Zola were withdrawn. Her allegation that the newspaper inaccurately reported that the Real Men Don’t Rape campaign went ahead is disputed by her own admission that it was “…aired for a very short time on DSTV but nobody knows why that happened.”
According to Art. 1.8 of the Press Code, the identity of rape victims and victims of sexual violence shall not be published without the consent of the victim. However, the article does not mention rape or sexual violence – only physical abuse. Clearly, the press does not need the consent of a victim of violence in order to publish a story about physical abuse.
Was Barolsky’s privacy invaded? Not if it is taken into account that Zola was a public figure of high status. Sunday World is correct: If such a public figure is accused of abuse, the public has the right to know. The newspaper also correctly points out that the police charge sheets are public documents.
Barolsky claims that her online article (the sidebar: “Catherine speaks out”) does not mention Zola’s name. That is not correct. The name is indeed mentioned, in the middle of the third paragraph. She herself identifies Zola.
Does the heading imply that she had willingly given the article to Sunday World? Certainly not. This is what Sunday World wrote: “Barolsky couldn’t be reached for comment at the time of going to press, but Sunday World retrieved the story she wrote for the 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse website last year, in which she narrates how Zola abused her (see sidebar).” (Emphasis added.) There is no way that the heading could be interpreted to mean she had willingly given the article to Sunday World.
Sunday World probably thinks that the sidebar gives it enough ground to use the “us” in the heading. The Ombudsman’s office accepts that it was sufficient justification for the headline.
The article did not violate the Press Code. All the complaints are therefore dismissed.
Please note that our Complaints Procedures lays 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 Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal.
Yours sincerely,
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman