Dr Faisal Suliman vs Post

Complainant: Dr Faisal Suliman

Lodged by: Dr Faisal Suliman

Article: Hindus cheesed off, and the subhead and street poster, ‘Muslims don’t buy from non-Muslims’.

Date: 9 June 2013

Respondent: Post

Complaint

Dr Suliman complains about a front page story in Post on 3 April 2013, headlined Hindus cheesed off, and the subhead and street poster, ‘Muslims don’t buy from non-Muslims’.

Suliman complains that the:

·         headline, sub-heading and posters were misleading and constituted Islamophobic journalism;

·         story presented the assertions of the CEO of Roman’s Pizza as fact; and

  • no Muslim organization or leader was contacted for comment.

Analysis

Note: I have considered to dismiss this complaint as the matter was before a court. However, because the newspaper was not involved in that case, I have decided to rule on this matter. My finding should not be seen as a decision regarding the matter before the court or, in any event, about the merits or demerits of either party – mine is a pure journalistic exercise. My one and only question is if the newspaper’s reportage was in breach of the Press Code or not.

The story was about a Hindu couple and their daughter (Mr Anak Neerputh, his wife Kaskumarie and their daughter Nalika, of Chatsworth) who were not allowed to buy a Roman’s Pizza franchise because of their faith. The matter between them and the CEO of the franchise, Mr Loannis Nicolakakis, was before the Equality Court. The CEO reportedly believed that Roman’s Pizza halaal outlets should be owned by Muslims as they had a better chance of being successful.

Headline; sub-heading; posters

Suliman complains that the headline, sub-heading and posters:

·         were misleading and constituted Islamophobic journalism – he says that these created the impression that there was an issue between the Hindu and Muslim communities and that it reduced a commercial dispute into a mass generalization about the Muslim community’s buying patterns;

·         added to the divisiveness between the two religious communities;

·         implied that Muslims were involved and were the culprits in the story, which was not the case; and

·         implied that no Muslim will buy any product from non-Muslims (while it may be true that many Muslims will not buy fast food from non-Muslim outlets).

Post says that the headlines and posters were a reasonable reflection of the contents of the story “which was extracted from court papers”. The newspaper also argues that it used inverted commas in the sub-headline and on the posters to indicate that this was an allegation that someone (Nicolakakis) had made.

Headline: Hindus cheesed off

This statement was factually correct, and it reflected the gist of both the story and the court case. The Neerpuths believed that they were discriminated against on the basis of their religion, which is what the main headline portrayed.

Sub-headline, posters: ‘Muslims don’t buy from non Muslims’

I recognize the fact that this statement was a generalization – the issue was the buying of fast food, and not of all products. Seen and interpreted in isolation, this may have meant that Muslims don’t buy cars or property or anything else, for that matter, from non-Muslims.

However, I also take into account that this statement was put in inverted commas, as well as the fact that most people who were interested in the story would have read it – and discovered that the story was about halaal and fast foods and not about all products, and that this was the opinion (not stated as fact) of a Hindu man.

This is evident from the following quotations (taken from court papers, about the views of Nicolakakis):

·         “…we insist on Muslim operators in our halaal outlets. This ensures that the outlet will be supported by Muslim customers. We tried operating a halaal branch in Phoenix with a non Muslim franchisee and it did not work out. The community did not trust the products produced there…”; and

·         “The failed Roman’s Pizza outlet in Phoenix demonstrated that Muslims do not trust or have confidence in a non-Muslim running a halaal outlet. The Neerpuths wanted the franchise to be a halaal one. That shows that they expected a significant number of Muslims to be customers of the halaal food. The reality is that Muslims will only trust halaal outlets run by Muslims”.

I therefore do not believe that this can be constituted as Islamophobic journalism and that it significantly added to the divisiveness between the two religious communities. Also, Muslims were not portrayed as “culprits”, as the story clearly indicated.

Assertions presented as fact

Sulaiman complains that the story presented Nicolakakis’s assertions as fact.

I cannot disagree more. When the story started to report on his side of the matter, it immediately referred to what he said in “court papers”. The rest of the coverage from his side (constituting the following five paragraphs) quoted him directly.

No Muslim organization, leader contacted for comment.

Suliman complains that no Muslim organization was contacted to check whether the allegations made by the franchisor were correct.

Post said that it did contact two prominent Muslims, who referred him to the SA National Halaal Authority. This body declined to comment without having seen the court papers. “This comment was included in the story.”

This was not even necessary – the whole story, from start to finish (except for the last two paragraphs that were about comment) was about court documents. This was court reporting, and it is not normal journalistic practice to ask for comment while a court case is underway.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

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