Faried Loonat vs Fordsburg Community Newspaper

Complainant: Faried Loonat

Lodged by:  Faried Loonat

Article: Sports & Rec’s – Faried Loonat in the Spotlight (p 29); this continued on the next page under the headline Faried Loonat truth or deception – you decide?; The Ward 58 Sports Council (p 31); and Transparency needed over public facilities!(p 32); this continued under the headline Sports Saga Continued…(p 30).

Date: 23 April 2013

Respondent: Fordsburg Community Newspaper

COMPLAINT

Mr Faried Loonat, the Regional Coordinator for Sport in Region B in the Fordsburg community, complains (in his personal capacity) about three articles in the Fordsburg Community Newspaper in November 2012. They were headlined:

·         Sports & Rec’s – Faried Loonat in the Spotlight (p 29); this continued on the next page under the headline Faried Loonat truth or deception – you decide?;

·         The Ward 58 Sports Council (p 31); and

·         Transparency needed over public facilities!(p 32); this continued under the headline Sports Saga Continued…(p 30).

Loonat complains about the first article that the:

·         headline was misleading;

·         picture of himself and Ismail were misleading;

·         journalist failed to report his full response;

·         reporter neglected to ask Mayfair Bowling Club’s lessee for comment;

·         story reported on rumour (Jubileum Grounds, point 6); and

·         reporting was not specific and therefore confusing.

He questions the reporting of his responses under the sub-headings Mayfair Bowling Club (point 3) and Jubileum Grounds (point 2, 3).

He also complains that the second article incorrectly stated that the Ward 58 council had already facilitated the successful transfer of the Scouts Hall to archery and boxing.

He says regarding the third article that the newspaper did not back up its allegations and that it misleadingly and/or inaccurately stated that:

·         Ismail had resigned as chairperson; and

·         his office could not even acquire a proper eviction notice.

ANALYSIS

The first article started as follows: “Due to the overwhelming concerns and calls that we received…regarding the usage of facilities in Ward 58, we contacted Mr Faried Loonat…to answer your questions and concerns”. The newspaper then put questions to him about the Grosvenor Recreation Centre, the Sports Council, the Mayfair Bowling Club, the Jubileum Grounds, the Hunter Mclean Centre and the Jamestown Grounds. The story reported Loonat’s responses to these questions.

The second story contained information about the Sports Council and Ward 58.

The third story was about the lack of proper sporting facilities in the community and it questioned “selfish members in our society” and corrupt officials. It was sub-headed by “Homestead Park JSS Sports Fields” and “JSS School SGB corruption”.

First article

Misleading headline

This story had two headlines. They read:

·         Sports & Rec’s – Faried Loonat in the Spotlight; and

·         Faried Loonat truth or deception – you decide?

Loonat says that he finds the headlines unacceptable. He does not indicate which of the two headlines he refers to, nor does he elaborate on why he is dissatisfied with it.

The newspaper says that the headings merely reflected the central figure referred to in the article and that it related to the contents of the story. Therefore, it argues that the headlines did not plant a negative and suspicious seed in the public’s mind.

The story was a question and answer affair, which was perfectly reflected in the first headline. I’ll therefore focus on the second one.

Firstly, I am baffled by the use of a question mark in the headline – to my mind, it served no purpose.

Be that as it may, Art 11.1 of the Press Code says: “Headlines…shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report…in question.”

My question now is: Did the story provide enough ground for the newspaper to have used the words “truth or deception” in the second headline? In other words, did the questions and answers sufficiently indicate that Loonat may have lied (in order to justify the headline)?

Please note: My task is a journalistic one, as I merely need to establish if the story itself warranted this headline – and not if Loonat actually lied or was likely to lie.

So, let me evaluate this section by section as it appeared in the story:

Grosvenor Recreation Centre

There was nothing in either the questions or in the answers that could have cast doubt on Loonat’s integrity.

Sports Council

Again, there was no indication that Loonat may have been lying or that he was likely to lie.

Mayfair Bowling Club

Of the seven questions under this section, one may have cast some doubt on Loonat’s integrity. The question was: How was it possible for him to offer a facility to another party if somebody else was the lease holder?

Jubileum Grounds

Again, this part of the story was “innocent”.

Hunter Mclean Centre

No finger could have been pointed at Loonat in this section either.

Jamestown Grounds

This (last) part of the story reflected a serious accusation against Loonat – the reporter asked if he (and somebody else) were in cahoots in obtaining and controlling public sports facilities for self-gain “and thus preventing the community from utilizing these facilities for its true intended purpose”. The question also mentioned the possible lack of transparency.

Loonat’s response was that he did not have to justify his relationship with the other person.

So: My question is if these two questions (in the Mayfair Bowling Club and the Jamestown Grounds sections) cast sufficient doubt on Loonat’s integrity to have warranted the headline. Remember, the Press Code requires a “reasonable reflection of the contents of the report”.

The article as a whole, which is quite long, contains for 95%+ pure information, asked by the reporter and responded to by Loonat. Therefore, I do not believe that the one or two sentences as outlined above were sufficient to have justified the headline. Instead, I think that the headline was unfair to Loonat and that it caused him some unnecessary harm.

Misleading picture

The picture portrayed Loonat and Ismail in a relaxed mood, talking to each other.

Loonat says that this photo was taken at the residence in the yard of the owners of the newspaper, who had invited him and his wife to celebrate their son’s birthday. Ismail was also present and Loonat says that he assumed that the former had been invited because he is the brother of a co-owner (Mohamed) of the Fordsburg newspaper.

He complains that the newspaper neglected to mention this context and argues that “it has been a deliberate attempt to mislead the readers…” as the picture appears under the heading “Jamestown Grounds”.

Fordsburg Community Paper says that there is no obligation upon any publication to disclose where and when a particular photograph was taken – and argues that the location of the taking of the picture is “totally irrelevant”. It adds that Loonat and Ismail know each other “and depicting them in the same photograph neither gives rise to an adverse inference nor does it take the matter any further”.

The newspaper concludes that the picture also did not plant a negative and suspicious seed in the public’s mind.

The newspaper’s arguments are all sound. The FCN was under any obligation to disclose where and when this picture had been taken. Newspapers often publish pictures that were taken in a different context – as long as the context does not distort the reality.

Response partly reported

Loonat complains that the journalist failed to report his full response under the heading “General”. He says that he provided the newspaper with names and contact details and requested the reporter to inform the community to contact the various officials directly. The neglect to do so amounted to not informing the public properly and therefore lead to wrong impressions, he argues.

The newspaper says that this part of the complaint is vexatious, as Loonat’s response to the various questions was reproduced verbatim. It adds: “Surely it is neither the responsibility, function nor the obligation of a newspaper to educate the community on procedures and the like. This is, and will always remain the duty of the local or other authority and Loonat cannot transfer this function to a newspaper.”

I note that, elsewhere in the story, the newspaper did report some names and contact numbers that Loonat had supplied the reporter with. It may be that the story did not reflect all of these names, but it is hard to conclude from that that the article left the wrong impressions.

Also, Loonat gave the newspaper a list of ten institutions, each with its contact person and telephone number. I cannot expect the newspaper to publish all this information.

Neglecting to ask lessee for comment

Loonat complains that the reporter neglected to ask Mayfair Bowling Club’s lessee for comment.

However, he has no standing to complain on behalf of the lessee. I therefore cannot entertain this part of the complaint.

Reporting on rumour

The question in dispute posed to Loonat: “Rumour has it that…” (Jubileum Grounds, point 6).

Loonat complains that newspaper should report on facts and not on rumour.

This is not correct. Art. 1.3 of the Press Code makes provision for reporting on rumour. It states: “…Where a report is…founded on rumour… it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly” – which is exactly what the newspaper did.

Unspecific, confusing reporting

Loonat complains that the reporting was not specific and therefore confusing. He refers here to communication between the newspaper and himself, prior to publication.

This office can only entertain text that has been published.

Responses dubiously reported

Loonat questions the reporting of his responses under the sub-headings Mayfair Bowling Club (point 3) and Jubileum Grounds (points 2, 3).

I have correspondence at my disposal that Loonat sent to the newspaper on 29 October 2012. According to this document, the story reflected his response regarding the Mayfair Bowling Club and the Jubileum Grounds not fully, but indeed sufficiently.

Second article

Facilitating transfer

The story stated: “The Ward 58 council has already facilitated the successful transfer of the Scouts Hall in Homestead Park to two emerging codes, Archery and Boxing.”

Loonat complains that this is not true, as it has been the initiative of the Sports and Recreation Department and not of the Ward 58 council.

The newspaper replies that it is generally accepted by the community that the Ward was instrumental in facilitating the transfer – even if it was the initiative of the Department of Sports and Recreation. It adds that, if this “generally accepted view” is erroneous, then “it is the function of the Department of Sports and Recreation to correct the position”.

This argument does not hold water. Even if the community accepted that the Ward facilitated the transfer, this does not mean that the newspaper should perpetuate a misconception and leave it up to some department to put the record straight.

I therefore have no reason to believe that the reporting on this matter was accurate; I also note that the sentence was presented as fact, and not as someone’s opinion.

Third article

Loonat complains that the newspaper did not back up its allegations and says that its article misleadingly and/or inaccurately stated that the Region B office (headed by him) could not even acquire a proper eviction notice and that Ismail had resigned as chairman.

Unable to acquire proper eviction notice

The sentence in dispute says: “Mr. Faried Loonat cannot even acquire a proper eviction notice and enforce the eviction at the Mayfair Bowling Club…where a crèche and squatters have taken over the facility at the loss of the community it is supposed to serve.”

Loonat complains that this is misleading, as the above-mentioned function resided under the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC), and adds that he informed the newspaper to this effect.

The newspaper responds that, while Loonat “may have” indicated such in his response, neither he nor the Department of Sports and Recreation can relieve themselves of this function – “as we understand that both the Department and the JPC are creations of the City of Johannesburg and they (both) remain accountable to the people they serve”.

It adds: “Loonat’s response to the questions relating to the eviction notices are nothing more than passing the responsibility to some other arm of the City of Johannesburg…and accordingly, the sentence complained of is fully justified as it simply conveys the facts.”

It is not my duty to establish what Loonat’s responsibilities are. However, I have little doubt that it was the newspaper’s responsibility to report his side of this matter.

Resigning as chairman

The story said: “When questioned about these issues (about the above-mentioned matters) by members of his sports council Ismail had no answers and resigned as chairperson.”

Loonat complains that this was a “blatant lie”.

However, he does not have the standing to complain of behalf of Ismail. I therefore cannot entertain this part of the complaint.

FINDING

First article

Misleading headline

The second headline (Faried Loonat truth or deception – you decide?) is in breach of Art. 11.1 of the Press Code that says: “Headlines…shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report…in question.”

Rest of the complaint

The rest of the complaint regarding this story is dismissed.

Second article

Facilitating transfer

The statement that the Ward 58 council has already facilitated the successful transfer of the Scouts Hall in Homestead Park to two emerging codes (Archery and Boxing) is inaccurate and in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall be obliged to report news accurately…”

Third article

Unable to acquire proper eviction notice

This office cannot decide what Loonat’s responsibilities were. However, the story should have included his version of this matter. This is in breach of Art. 1.2 of the Press Code that says: “News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by…material omissions…”

Resigning as chairman

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

SANCTION

The newspaper is directed to:

·         apologise to Loonat for an unfair headline that caused him unnecessary harm;

·         correct the inaccurate statement that the Ward 58 council facilitated the successful transfer of the Scouts Hall in Homestead Park to two emerging sport codes;

·         state Loonat’s view on the acquiring of a proper eviction notice at the Mayfair Bowling Club (the newspaper is cautioned for not reporting his views on this matter);

·         publish the text below; and

·         use the words “apology” or “apologises” as well as “Loonat” in the headline.

Beginning of text

Fordsburg Community Newspaper apologises to Mr Faried Loonat, the Regional Coordinator for Sport in Region B in the Fordsburg community, for an unfair headline that caused him unnecessary harm.

Loonat lodged a complaint (in his personal capacity) about three articles in November 2012. They were headlined:

·         Sports & Rec’s – Faried Loonat in the Spotlight (p 29); this continued on the next page under the headline Faried Loonat truth or deception – you decide?;

·         The Ward 58 Sports Council (p 31); and

·         Transparency needed over public facilities!(p 32); this continued under the headline Sports Saga Continued…(p 30).

These stories were mainly about concerns regarding the usage of facilities in Ward 58.

Press Ombudsman said that the article as a whole contained for 95%+ pure information. “Therefore, I do not believe that the one or two sentences (that may have cast doubt as to the veracity of Loonat’s answers or his propensity to have lied) sufficiently justified the headline. Instead, I think that the headline was unfair to Loonat and that it caused him some unnecessary harm.”

He also:

·         directed us to correct the statement that the Ward 58 council facilitated the successful transfer of the Scouts Hall in Homestead Park to two emerging sport codes – according to Loonat, this transfer was rather the initiative of the Sports and Recreation Department; and

·         cautioned us for not publishing Loonat’s view on the acquiring of a proper eviction notice at the Mayfair Bowling Club – he said that the above-mentioned function resided under the Johannesburg Property Company and not under him.

Retief dismissed the rest of the complaint that consisted of several sub-sections.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

End of text

APPEAL

Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven 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