Daya Chetty vs Laudium Sun

Complainant: Daya Chetty

Lodged by: Daya Chetty

ArticleDaya in hot water again…over wrong Purattaasi dates (October 9, 2009) and about a column headlined Sun Mampara of the Month (October 30, 2009)

Date: 21 June 2010

Complaint
Mr Daya Chetty, the principal of the Laudium Secondary School, complains about a story in Laudium Sun headlined Daya in hot water again…over wrong Purattaasi dates (October 9, 2009) and about a column headlined Sun Mampara of the Month (October 30, 2009).
According to the complaint:
  • Both the article and the column express the opinion of the editor rather than “the facts”;
  • The story’s headline distort the facts;
  • The Mampara column is derogatory and humiliating, especially given Chetty’s position in society; and
  • Chetty’s picture in the column was photo-shopped to create a different perception of him.
Analysis
The story says Chetty publicly stated that the last date of the sacred Tamil and Telegu month of Purattaasi, in which fasting plays a crucial role, was going to be October 16. According to the story that was a mistake – instead, the fasting month would end on October 17. In the story several residents lashed out at Chetty for this. It is added that Chetty refused to comment on this issue.
In the column Chetty is “awarded” the Mampara title for, amongst other issues, getting the last day of the Tamil fasting month wrong.
 
The newspaper says that Chetty’s complaint is malicious, vexatious, deceitful and cunning.
We shall now discuss the merits of the complaint.
The opinion of the editor: story and column
The crux of the story in question is the allegation that Chetty erred by stating that the holy Tamil month was to end on 16 October.
It is significant that:
  • Chetty’s public statement caused quite an uproar; and
  • Chetty did not dispute the allegation that he had made a mistake.
It is therefore reasonable to accept that it was a fact (and not an opinion) that the month indeed was to end on October 17.
The only other possible basis for thinking that the article contains the editor’s opinion is the opening statement that Chetty is again in hot water. However, this “again” clearly refers to the other articles that we have decided not to entertain (see the postscript). Which means, of course, that the “again” is not meant to be comment, but indeed to provide background or context to the story.
The Mampara statement is expressed in a column, which contains comment by its very nature. Any newspaper is entitled to its opinion, as long as it is clear that it is opinion, fair and an honest expression, without malice or dishonest motives (Art. 4 of the Press Code).
If Chetty indeed got the date wrong, as it is reasonable to acept, then the Mampara comment was also reasonable.
Daya in hot water again…over wrong Purattaasi dates
Chetty says the headline does not reflect the content of the story.
The relevant section of the Press Code is Art. 5.1 that says: “Headlines…shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report in question.”
A close scrutiny of the story reveals that the headline indeed reflects the content of the story – both say Chetty got the last day of the Tamil month wrong. Besides, it was also already found that the content of the story was reasonably true.
This part of the complaint is therefore baseless.
Sun Mampara of the Month
This headline is indeed derogatory and humiliating, as Chetty says. However, calling someone a “mampara” does not by default represent a breach of the Code. Believing (as the newspaper seemingly and with reason did) that Chetty got the last date of the Tamil fasting month wrong, it was not unreasonable to “award” him this title (given the seriousness of the matter to Tamils).
Furthermore, Chetty is a public figure and should as such expect closer scrutiny from the press than many other citizens.
Picture
The picture in the column shows Chetty with a garland around his neck. Chetty says the garland was doctored onto the picture with the intention to create a different (Mampara-like) perception of him.
The allegation that this picture was manipulated is a very serious one indeed. Few other journalistic practices undermine the credibility of the press as much as this issue does. Art. 5.3 of the Press Code clearly states: “Pictures shall not misrepresent or mislead nor be manipulated to do so.”
Laudium Sun denies that the picture was doctored. The picture was taken at a public forum, the newspaper maintains, claiming that it had received reports that Chetty was allegedly drunk at the time of the taking of the picture (and therefore probably did not remember the garland around his neck).
In this case the benefit of the doubt should go to the newspaper. This is why: Chetty was given an opportunity to dispute the allegation (that he was drunk at the time the picture in question was taken), but he chose not to do so.
Postscript
Chetty complained about two other articles as well. In the one article it is said that Chetty apparently had a relationship with a female learner, who had an abortion three months later; in the other article it was alleged that Chetty was reluctant to take action against teachers who were absent without valid reasons.
Our office could not entertain these articles as the one was published months ago and the other was undated. His explanation that he was not aware of the Press Ombudsman as an avenue to direct his complaints may be true – however, if accepted, it would have opened up the chaotic possibility that anyone can lodge a complaint months or even years after an article was published, using the same excuse.
Chetty’s request for this office to investigate if Laudium Sun has reported “equally” about other principals in the area can also not be entertained. (Chetty says he was the “only principal” that was being “targeted on a continuous basis” and believes that the newspaper was pursuing a personal vendetta against him.) Our mandate is to investigate specific complaints relating to specific articles – not a newspaper’s reportage over a given period of time.
Ruling
The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.
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.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman