Complainant: Ann Parboo
Article: Rumours of bribery, sabotage and racism fly after crowning
Date: 2 October 2012
Respondent: Newscatle Advertiser
Ms Ann Parboo complains about a story in the Newcastle Advertiser on 15 May 2012 and headlined Rumours of bribery, sabotage and racism fly after crowning.
She complains that the story defamed her.
The story, written by Reveshni Moodley, was about Facebook allegations ranging from rumours of bribery and corruption to deliberate sabotage and racism against the organisers (Parboo and her husband, Shaun) following the outcome of a beauty pageant. These allegations came from contestants, their families and friends. More specifically, Mr Parboo allegedly had solicited a bribe of R5 000 from the girl who won the competition. Ms Parboo reportedly explained that this girl’s mother told her that she had municipal contacts and that she could get a sponsorship of R5 000 for the competition.
Parboo complains that the allegations mentioned above were defamatory of her and her spouse, as the R5 000 was a sponsorship from the municipality.
The newspaper replies that it gave the Parboo couple a chance to respond to each and every allegation, and that it published their views. It also denies that it accused the Parboo couple of bribery, fraud, racism or sabotage.
In her response to the newspaper’s reply, Parboo elaborates on what she alleges to be inaccurate in the story.
I cannot entertain these new allegations, as Parboo had an opportunity to voice them in her initial complaint, and because the newspaper had no chance to reply to them.
Note that it is not my task to decide if the Parboo couple was guilty of the allegations or not, or if they followed the correct procedures in making their decision – I am not a court of law. My sole task is to decide if the newspaper’s reportage was within the ambits of the Press Code or not.
I also cannot decide if the reporting was defamatory of them – one cannot defame somebody with the truth, and I simply have no way to decide whether the allegations were true or not.
I take into account that the story did indeed not state the allegations as fact, that the journalist clearly used more than one source, and that Parboo’s comments were published.
However, that in itself is not enough. The allegations were serious, potentially unnecessarily causing the Parboo couple harm to their name and reputation – and I have no evidence that the newspaper tried to verify these allegations. No clear attempt was made to get the municipality’s comment on the R5 000.
It is fundamentally unfair to publish serious allegations such as these without verification. I also note that the allegations came from contestants, their families and friends – who were all (subjectively) involved in the pageant. This should have alerted the newspaper to the red lights that clearly were flickering, and which should have made verification all the more necessary.
After my first finding, the newspaper sent me a transcript in which Parboo allegedly spoke to a mother. The latter asked her why she did not get the R5 000, to which Parboo responded: “I got nothing… I got nothing from nobody. I carried this project all by myself, all by myself, I’m not sitting with a cent in my pocket right now. I said to Mbali, ‘Mbali, if you get me that sponsor, I said you are a winner, my friend, that’s what I said to her’.” (emphasis added)
Mbali was a contestant and did not win the competition.
Here are my considerations regarding this transcript:
- I have no reason to doubt its authenticity;
- The words in question may point to bribery – but not necessarily so. The word “winner” may also simply mean the opposite of “loser” and may have been meant in general terms; and
- Because the statement can be interpreted in more than one way, I still cannot come to a conclusion that the story was either true or false.
I also note that this “verification” that the newspaper provided me with, came only after the story had been published. This means that I am again going to find against the newspaper as I still believe that it did not do enough to verify the allegations prior to publication. At the very least it should have obtained comment from an objective source such as the municipality.
With the evidence at my disposal when making my first finding, I came to the conclusion that the story caused Parboo unnecessary harm. However, with the transcript on my desk I now do not have enough grounds to come to the same conclusion as, to my mind, the matter is in doubt.
The story breached Art. 1.4 of the Press Code that states: “When there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be mentioned in such report.”
The Newcastle Advertiser is reprimanded for not doing enough to verify the allegations in the story.
The newspaper is directed to publish the following text on its front page:
The office of the Press Ombudsman has reprimanded The Newcastle Advertiser for not verifying allegations in a front story that we published on 15 May this year.
The story, written by Reveshni Moodley, was about allegations ranging from rumours of bribery and corruption to deliberate sabotage and racism against the organisers (the Parboo couple) following the outcome of a beauty pageant– and that the girl who won the completion allegedly paid them an amount of R5 000.
This reprimand came after Ms Ann Parboo lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman, claiming that the story was defamatory of her.
Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said that he could not decide if the story was defamatory, as he was not in a position to decide whether the allegations were true or not. However, he said: “No clear attempt was made to get the municipality’s comment on the R5 000.”
He added that the allegations came from contestants, their families and friends – who were all (subjectively) involved in the pageant. “This should have alerted the newspaper to the red lights that were flickering, and which should have made verification all the more necessary.”
Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.
End of text
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