Appeal Decision: Solal Technologies vs Beeld

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Solal Technologies

Respondent: Beeld

Matter No: 269/2012

Application for leave to appeal to the Appeals Panel: Decision

1.The applicant, Solal Technologies, lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman against the respondent, Beeld, in relation to a story which appeared in the paper’s edition of 16 November 2012 headlined “ ‘Bakterie lei tot griep’: Firma gekap.” Before publishing the story, the journalist asked applicant for comment; the latter submitted its view in writing. The story centered around applicant’s claim that influenza could be caused by bacteria, and then went on to advertise that one of its products could prevent flue. The Advertising Standards Authority disagreed, and ruled that applicant should stop the advertisement.

2.The crux of applicant’s complain was that whereas it had submitted its response to the journalist, its views were  not reflected in the report. This was indeed the case. The applicant, in later submissions to the Ombudsman, put its complaint as follows:

The cause of complaint is that the ASA…………was a protagonist in the story, yet their version of events was proffered over that of another (the applicant itself), based on no investigation, and despite damning details being submitted as regards the ASA, its procedures, its jurisdiction (or lack thereof) and its overt bias as against ourselves.

It is the press’s obligation to report objectively, and that did not happen in this case.”

The applicant averred that the respondent contravened certain articles of the Press Code then, such as article 1.1 (truthful, fair and accurate reporting) and article 1.5 ( failure to reflect applicant’s written response). The Ombudsman ruled against the applicant, and dismissed the complaint in its entirety.

3.In his Ruling, the Ombudsman succinctly summarizes the complaint as follows: firstly, that the story “favoured a protagonist in the story (the Advertising Standards Authority), which resulted in an unfair and unbalanced story.”  Secondly, that the story “did not reflect its comments (bias).”

4.The basis of applicant’s complaint is really that its point of view was not covered, which resulted in the story being unbalanced. That basis cannot, however, hold. The problem is that in what was supposed to be its response, applicant concentrated on its sour relationship with ASA. This was not to be the gist of the story, even less so the question of ASA’s procedures or its jurisdiction (or lack of it).The dispute between applicant and ASA was a matter to be resolved before court. In issue, which was what was to be the story, was whether or not influenza could be caused by bacteria, and whether or not applicant’s product could cure it, as applicant claimed. I agree with the Ombudsman, and the reasons given by him, that the story was not unbalanced.

5.For the above reasons, I hold that there are no reasonable prospects of success that applicant could succeed before the Appeals Panel; the application is therefore refused.

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chairperson, Appeals Panel.

22 August 2013.