Sydney Kaye vs Cape Times

Complainant:  Sydney Kaye

Lodges by:  Sydney Kaye

Article:  Tafelberg joy for blacks

Date: 24 May 2016

Respondent:  Damien Terblanche, on behalf of the Cape Times newspaper

Complaint

Kaye complains that the headline did not reflect the content of the story, and that it provoked racial antagonism, and that it advocated hatred that was based on race and ethnicity.

The text

The story was about a Western Cape High Court decision, preventing the provincial government from selling the Tafelberg Remedial School site. Some people hailed the decision as a “victory for the poor working class”.

The article said, “The controversial sale of the site in Sea Point to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School for R135 million was stopped on Thursday and the Western Cape government ordered to open a public participation process and await a decision by the provincial cabinet on whether the land should be sold.”

The application before the court reportedly was to stop the transfer of the property because it could have been used for “affordable housing” instead.

The arguments

Kaye says that, on reading the headline, one would wonder if it referred to a family called “Black” or to a sports team called “The Blacks” – but, in fact, it referred to a group roughly defined as “the blacks – while there was nothing in the story that alluded to “blacks”. Also, the headline implied that if the “blacks’ won, then somebody (presumably the “whites”) lost.

He argues that this represented a discriminatory or denigratory reference to whites (see Section 5.1 of the Code of Ethics and Conduct).

Instead, he argues, the story was about a legal dispute between the City of Cape Town and an activist group. He notes that the applicants in the court case referred to themselves as poor, working class and residents of Sea Point – but not as black, nor has it been alleged that the action was based on racial discrimination, or as racial conflict. “The City of Cape Town cannot be characterized by the colour of its skin,” he adds.

Terblanche says the term “blacks” denotes people who are African, Coloured or Indian. He says the story was about the provincial government’s sale of land that could and should have been used for housing for disadvantaged (“black”) people. “The people involved in the campaign are black. So when the court ruled – it was a victory for them – the poor.”

He denies that the newspaper was trying to fuel racial hatred or damage race relations. “The Cape Times has been in the forefront of exposing racism. And we are unapologetic about it.”

He adds that the story was in the public interest, and that it aimed to and has achieved its goal of uplifting the community by showing that the law protected people of all races, whether they were rich or poor.

Kaye responds that the newspaper did not materially respond to his complaint.

He concludes that the use of the generic term ‘blacks’ constituted egregious stereotyping – even if all poor people were black, it did not mean that all blacks were poor. “The danger of racial stereotyping is that it separates groups according to race (which apparently is [the newspaper’s] agenda) and not more accurately according to their interests or economic situations.”

Analysis

It is true that the article did not use the term “blacks”, and neither was the story about a racial matter. Therefore, I have little doubt that the headline did not properly reflect the content of the story, as required by the Code of Ethics and Conduct.

However, I also need to look further than the text of the Code – I should also take its intention, or spirit, into account.

The bottom-line question in this regard is: Did the headline’s use of a word (“black”) which was not reflected in the story cause anybody any harm?

I cannot agree with the argument that, because the headline stated that blacks had won, it meant that whites had lost. That conclusion is a mere assumption which, I submit, is without any foundation. The “fight” that was won and lost was not between black and white, but between some black people (I accept that the complainants in the court case were black) and the City of Cape Town.

In conclusion, I submit that the headline did not do any unnecessary damage to the community, even though the newspaper should have been more cautious in allowing a headline that did not strictly reflect the content of the story.

The fact that the complainants in the court case were black does serve as some mitigation in this regard, though.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

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

Johan Retief

Press Ombud