Prega Padayachee vs Public Eye

Complainant: Prega Padayachee

Lodged by: Prega Padayachee

Article: Disgusted by behaviour of Temple officials during firewalking

Author of article: Parm Naidoo

Date: 28 May 2013

Respondent: Public Eye

Complaint

Mr Prega Padayachee, who is involved in the activities of a Hindu temple in Pietermaritzburg, complains about a letter to the editor published in Public Eye on 18 April 2013, headlined Disgusted by behaviour of Temple officials during firewalking.

Padayachee complains that the:

·         newspaper neglected to ask him for comment;

·         identity of the author of the letter should be disclosed; and

·         allegations against him were not correct, causing him some serious (unnecessary) harm.

Analysis

The letter, written by Parm Naidoo, accused Padayachee of some misbehaviour regarding a recent Hindu temple fire-walking activity in Pietermaritzburg.

Not asked for comment

Padayachee complains that the newspaper did not ask him for comment prior to the publication of the letter.

Newspapers are not obliged to do so – that is not normal journalistic practice.

Author’s identity to be disclosed

Padayachee asks Public Eye to disclose the identity of the author of the letter.

This is confusing, as the author’s name was disclosed.

Allegations

Padayachee complains that the allegations against him contained in the letter were not correct and that that have caused him some serious (unnecessary) harm.

He does not pinpoint these allegations, but the letter contained the following potentially damaging remarks against him, namely that he:

·         blatantly and barbarically pushed away women out of the way who were in a trance state; and

·         threatened and harassed a certain Ramsawak Sunker (the letter did not provide any details regarding this person, or this allegation).

The newspaper responds that:

·         the author of the letter was prepared to submit an affidavit to the effect that s/he and others witnessed the alleged incidents;

·         Padayachee was a senior figure in a public institution and that the contents of the letter was in the public interest; and

·         it was prepared to publish his views on these matters.

Padayachee responds that the letter made him look like a bully who had no respect for women, and says that he subsequently withdrew from activities at the temple.

I note that the issue was indeed in the public interest, and also that Padayachee refused a right of reply (which was his right to do so).

However, the newspaper’s observation about an affidavit by its primary source is of little help, as Padayachee was most likely to make an opposing affidavit. Also, the newspaper (by its own admission) did not obtain this “affidavit” prior to publication.

This means that Public Eye published two damaging allegations against Padayachee (recorded above) without any proper justification at the time of publication.

In law, the repetition of defamation is also defamation.  This means that newspapers cannot publish just any letter to the editor – the content has to have some sort of foundation to it, and the publication has to take responsibility for everything that it publishes.

My only conclusion can be that the letter portrayed Padayachee as a bully without the necessary justification to do so, which means that his reputation and dignity was unnecessarily harmed.

Please note that I am not in a position to confirm or deny the allegations against Padayachee – I am merely finding that the newspaper was not justified to publish the allegations against him at the time of going to the press.

Finding

Not asked for comment

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Author’s identity to be disclosed

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Allegations

The statements in the letter (that Padayachee blatantly and barbarically pushed away women who were in a trance state, and that he threatened and harassed Sunker) unnecessarily and unjustifiably tarnished his dignity and reputation. This is in breach of Art. 4.2 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation…”

This clause has an important exemption to it, namely that facts reported should be true or substantially true (Art. 4.2.1). In this case, however, this provision cannot come into play as there is no evidence as to the veracity of the statements.

Sanction

Public Eye is directed to apologise to Padayachee for publishing statements to the effect that he blatantly and barbarically pushed away women who were in a trance state, and that he threatened and harassed another person – thereby harming his dignity and reputation without enough justification to do so.

The newspaper is directed to publish the following text:

Public Eye apologises to Mr Prega Padayachee, who was involved in the activities of a Hindu temple in Pietermaritzburg, for publishing a letter that unjustifiably stated that he blatantly and barbarically pushed away women who were in a trance state during a fire-walking activity, and that he threatened and harassed another person. This has harmed his dignity and reputation, without enough justification to do so.

The letter, published on 18 April 2013, was headlined Disgusted by behaviour of Temple officials during firewalking. The author, Parm Naidoo, accused Padayachee of some misbehaviour during a fire-walking activity at the temple.

Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said that his only conclusion could be that the publication of the letter unjustifiably portrayed Padayachee as a bully.

He added, “…the newspaper’s observation about an affidavit by its primary source is of little help, as Padayachee was most likely to make an opposing affidavit. Also, the newspaper (by its own admission) did not get this ‘affidavit’ prior to publication.”

Retief said that newspapers cannot just publish any letter to the editor – it has to have some sort of foundation to it, and the publication has to take responsibility for everything that it publishes.

He stated: “Please note that I am not in a position to confirm or deny the allegations against Padayachee – I am merely finding that the newspaper was not justified to publish the allegations against him at the time of going to the press.”

He dismissed the complaint that we should have asked Padayachee for comment, as this was not “normal journalistic practice” regarding letters to the editor.

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

End of text

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