B Deepnarian vs Phoenix Sun

Complainant: B Deepnarian

Lodged by: B Deepnarian

Article: School toilet row causes a stink

Author of article: Krishnee Naidoo

Date: 20 July 2013

Respondent: Phoenix Sun

Complaint

Mr B Deepnarian complains about a story in the Phoenix Sun newspaper, headlined School toilet row causes a stink, published on 12 June 2013.

He complains that the:

  • story was biased and that it omitted relevant information;
  • journalists arrived without prior arrangements and did not identify themselves;
  • statement that the journalist discussed the matter with him or with the School Governing Body (SGB) was inaccurate; and
  • journalists did not seek permission to take photographs on the premises.

Analysis

The story, written by Krishnee Naidoo, said that some parents of learners at Palmview Secondary School were disgruntled over the condition of the girls’ toilets and that these posed a health hazard.

Biased, omitting information

Deepnarian complains that the story was biased because:

  • the school has 1 014 learners and, according to the reporter, only three parents voiced their concern;
  • the pictures taken and published as “Exclusive” was taken of toilets that were under construction;
  • the reporter did not mention the names of the parents who allegedly complained; and
  • there were two incidents of major theft last year, and that the school was still trying to recover from this loss.

Neither of these matters holds any water. This is why:

  • Even if only one parent complained with reason, that would have been enough for the newspaper to report on the matter – the number of people who were unhappy is irrelevant;
  • The fact that the toilets were “under construction” is also not pertinent – fact of the matter is that they were not in use;
  • The newspaper was not obliged to disclose the names of its sources; on the contrary, the Press Code obliges it not to reveal their identity if so requested; and
  • The argument that the incidents took place last year and that the toilets were still not repaired rather strengthens the newspaper’s argument, instead of that of the principal.

It is also quite baffling that Deepnarian supplies this office with a list of documentation, signed by him and directed to the Department of Education, complaining or at least explaining that the toilets still were not repaired.

Arriving without arrangement; not identifying themselves

Deepnarian complains that the journalists arrived at the school without any prior arrangements and when they did, they did not identify themselves.

The newspaper denies this.

This part of the complaint is hard to understand. Surely, the photographer’s equipment was in clear sight? And when they asked to see the toilets, I would expect the principal to have asked them what their business was? It is difficult to see how the principal did not know that the visitors were in fact journalists.

Secondly, to arrive without prior arrangement (if the journalists did) may have been bad manners, but that cannot be in breach of the Press Code.

Discussing the matter with the SGB

Deepnarian complains that the story was inaccurate in that the reporter had not tabled the matter with him or with the SGB.

This part of the complaint is puzzling, as the principal admits that he allowed the journalists to visit the toilets. Also see my argument above.

No permission to take pictures

Deepnarian complains that the journalists did not obtain permission to take pictures.

Phoenix Sun denies this.

Again, this part of the complaint is difficult to grasp – by the principal’s own admission he allowed the journalists (together with their photographic equipment) to inspect the toilets. Besides, somebody accompanied them. It they were not allowed to take pictures, why then did nobody stop them from doing so?

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 Adjudication Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman