Cape of Good Hope SPCA vs Daily Voice

C complainant: Cape of Good Hope SPCA

Lodged by:  S. Scarth

Article:  I eat pussy to survive – These hungry Flats mense will kill, cook and chow your pets. The whole of pages 4 and 5 is devoted to this issue. The headlines read: Pawtjiekos; How starving people catch, butcher and cook stray pets; MEAT poor Flats mense who live on honde vleis; and It’s dog eat dog

Date: 21 June 2010

Respondent: Daily Voice

Complaint
Ms Sarah Scarth complains about several articles in Daily Voice (July 15, 2009).
The headline on the front page reads: I eat pussy to survive – These hungry Flats mense will kill, cook and chow your pets. The whole of pages 4 and 5 is devoted to this issue. The headlines read: Pawtjiekos; How starving people catch, butcher and cook stray pets; MEAT poor Flats mense who live on honde vleis; and It’s dog eat dog.
The SPCA says the stories:
  • are a deliberate fabrication of mistruths as the journalist prompted Grootboom to make his statements;
  • perpetrate violent acts against animals;
  • promote cats and dogs as a suitable source of meat; and
  • are false (referring to the allegation of transporting a source in a Police or state vehicle).
The complaint is also about the pictures, which are said to be staged and misleading.
Analysis
The stories relate how Cape Flats based Mr Denver Grootboom for six months caught and ate stray pets in order to survive. It is suggested that he may not be the only one in that boat.
Firstly, we take a look at the articles.
Fabrication
The SPCA says after the publication of the stories its inspectors immediately located Grootboom – with the following results:
  • There was no trace of any cruelty to animals in that area, “as it was suggested in the article”;
  • Grootboom claimed that he was asked by the journalist to make the offending statements; and
  • Grootboom denied slaughtering and eating pets to survive (this is contained in an affidavit by Grootboom).
The newspaper denies that the stories were fabricated or served to promote cruelty to animals. It believes the information contained in the articles was in the public interest “…both from the point of view of the human interest and the possibility that other people in similar circumstances to Grootboom could act in a similar manner…” Daily Voice says when read as a whole, the articles show the effects of poverty on the Cape Flats.
The fact that Grootboom denied in an affidavit (after the publication of the article in question) that he had survived on dog meat the last six months (in the same affidavit he admits to having eaten dog food two years ago) is of no concern to this investigation. Grootboom may have lied to Cruywagen – or he may have lied in his affidavit. Cruywagen did not have the benefit of the affidavit when he wrote the story.
The benefit of the doubt should go to the journalist, Vincent Cruywagen, because:
  • his source (a policeman) claimed prior experience of Grootboom eating dog meat; and
  • the source’s information was corroborated by Grootboom himself (who is quoted extensively to this effect).
Violent acts against animals
The focus of the story is human tragedy, not the plight of animals. To argue that the story perpetrates violence against animals is the same futile argument that can, for example, be used to say the press is perpetrating crime when it reports on it.
Suitable source of meat
The slaughtering of the animals and the cooking of the meat were described in a rather graphic manner. But again, the intention was not to promote pets as a suitable source of meat, but rather to describe the desperateness of Grootboom’s and possibly other people’s situation.
State vehicle
It is indeed irregular to transport a (press) source in a state vehicle. However, this does not necessarily make the story improbable, neither does it automatically affect the truth of the story.
Secondly, we consider the pictures.
This is what some of the pictures are about:
  • In the front page picture Grootboom holds a cat in his arms, with his mouth buried in the fur at the back of its neck – seemingly ready to “bite”. The second, and much smaller, picture on the front page displays how Grootboom and a boy get ready to “butcher” a dog. The boy holds its hind legs in the air and a smiling Grootboom kneels over the dog. (This picture also appears on page 5, where the photo is used much bigger.) The caption reads: “SLAUGHTER: Denver demonstrates how to butcher dog”.
  • On page 4 Grootboom is shown to hold a dog in his arms while he holds a knife at its throat; the dog is licking him in the face.
  • On page 4, Grootboom is eating meat. The caption reads: “HUNGRY: Dog catcher says it tastes like lamb”. A lift-out quote says: “It usually takes an hour to get it really juicy and with some barbecue spice it tasts like real mutton or lamb pieces. The only difference is it’s a little bitter.”
Scarth says the pictures were all staged and that they were misleading.
Daily Voice admits that the pictures were staged.
However, the newspaper did not make this clear to its readers. The use of the word “demonstrate” on the front page does not clarify matters, as it can either mean that the pictures were staged, or that Grootboom was really going to kill the animals.
So firstly: It is quite possible that readers may have mistakenly believed that slaughtering was about to take place. Besides, the smaller picture on the front page, repeated on page 5 (where Grootboom and a boy gets “ready” to “slaughter” a dog), does look rather realistic. By the newspaper’s own admittance, it would have shed light on matters if the words “pictures posed” or “none of the animals herein were harmed” were used.
The sensitive matter of slaughtering pets (to eat) should have guided the newspaper to be more cautious.
Secondly: The picture on page 4 which shows Grootboom eating a piece of meat is misleading. The caption does not leave much to the imagination the reader is made to believe that he is eating dog or cat meat, while instead he was, according to all parties, eating chicken.
Finding
The stories
It was both reasonable for Cruywagen to believe that the story was true and for the newspaper to publish the material. The articles did not perpetrate violent acts against animals nor did it promote cats and dogs as a suitable source of meat. This part of the complaint is dismissed in its entirety.
The pictures
For not making it clear that the pictures were staged, especially in light of the sensitive nature of the issue, the newspaper is in breach of Art. 5.3 of the Press Code which states: “Pictures shall not…mislead…”
The picture on page 4 portraying Grootboom eating chicken, while the readers are being lead to believe that he is eating dog meat, is misleading and therefore also in breach of Art. 5.3 of the Press Code.
Sanction
Daily Voice is reprimanded for not indicating that the pictures were staged.
With regards to the page 4 picture mentioned above, the newspaper is reprimanded for creating the impression that Grootboom was eating dog meat.
Daily Voise is directed to publish this finding as well as to re-publish the page 4 picture in question, together with a suitable correction.
Appeal
Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay 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 SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman