Gruschenka Boswell vs People magazine

Complainant: Gruschenka Boswell

Lodged by: Gruschenka Boswell

Article: The secret world of bestiality

Author of article: Vanessa Papas

Date: 9 November 2013

Respondent: People magazine

Complaint

Boswell complains about a story, headlined The secret world of bestiality, published in People magazine on 28 October 2013.

She complains that the article was offensive and should not have been published as it was not prepared in accordance with acceptable principles of journalistic conduct and in the public interest, particularly not for teenagers.

The text

The story, written by Vanessa Papas, was about a man who had forced a dog’s head through the bars of a security door and raped it. The story was accompanied by some pictures.

Analysis

Caknis says that the front page mentioned that the story was not for sensitive viewers. She adds that the pictures that were published were mild in comparison to others that were in her possession. She explains: “The article was brought to our attention by the SPCA… [and]we are also trying to make a difference… I truly do apologise if I have upset the complainant, it was not my intention at all [but – ]just to bring awareness of what is happening in our cruel world [as]these animals are suffering.”

The editor says that she is willing to apologise to Boswell via email.

Boswell finds this unacceptable and calls for adjudication by this office.

The following sections of the Press Code are relevant:

  • 2.7: “Reports, photographs…relating to indecency or obscenity shall be presented with due sensitivity to the prevailing moral climate…”; and
  • 9: “Due care and responsibility shall be exercised by the press with regard to the presentation of brutality, violence and suffering.”

Please note that these sections do not prohibit the publication of indecent, obscene, brutal and violent material as such – they do ask for “due sensitivity” and for “due care and responsibility”, though.

The magazine has to be commended for:

  • adequately warning the public on its front page (which was a clear enough caution – it read: SHOCKING! Not for sensitive readers! BESTIALITY CRIMES, published in colour in the middle of the page);
  • not using the story on its front page;
  • again publishing the words NOT FOR SENSITIVE READERS! on top of the inside page that dealt with the story; and
  • not using graphic pictures of the event (one picture of a dog was appalling, but that photo did not depict a sexual act – yet it still spoke more than a thousand words).

I also take into account that the matter was certainly in the public interest, as an atrocious act with an animal such as in this case deeply reflects on humanity in general and, more particularly, on the kind of society that we live in.

I therefore conclude that the magazine merely fulfilled its duty as a watchdog and that, in doing so, it kept within the boundaries of the Press Code. It has nothing to apologise for.

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