Richard Ferraris vs Sunday Times

Complainant: Richard Ferraris

Article: unknown dunderhead, a palooka, a clown and a “kansvater” (sic) whose knowledge of South African soccer is limited to               his “pea-sized brain” and who is in his second week of covering the Bafana beat.

Date: 21 June 2010

Respondent: Sunday Times

Complaint
Internet journalist Mr Richard Ferraris complains about a Tsamaya column in Sunday Times, published on October 17, 2009, which he says is defamatory, slanderous and harmful to his reputation.
In the column Ferraris is called an unknown dunderhead, a palooka, a clown and a “kansvater” (sic) whose knowledge of South African soccer is limited to his “pea-sized brain” and who is in his second week of covering the Bafana beat.
Analysis
It has to be noted that the Tsamaya comments came after Ferraris wrote on the web: “Sapa, and the rest of the idiots writing on the back pages and sports websites…” (emphasis added). He also called the local (sport) media “pathetic” and “predictable”.
The newspaper says Ferraris is not entitled to an apology because the comments were made in a satirical column and not in a news report. Sunday Times says the comments were a fair response as Ferraris had invited the fight and set the tone.
Let us take a closer look at what the words in dispute mean:
·        A dunderhead is a stupid person.
·        A palooka is someone with a lack of experience, reason or judgement.
·        A clown is someone you should not take seriously, but rather laugh at.
·        chancer (“kansvatter”) is somebody who takes opportunities when they come along – it has a negative slant to it.
·        The use of the expression pea-sized brain can probably be interpreted as meaning roughly the same as “idiot”. One dictionary describes an “idiot” as a person who has the lowest level of intellectual ability (an IQ of less than 20).
Therefore: The newspaper’s (satirical) comments were fair in that they came in reaction to those of Ferraris and also because they did not attribute anything worse to Ferraris than what he used to describe South African sports journalists with.
In conclusion: The newspaper says its comments were meant to be funny. Ferraris did not see the joke; neither does the Deputy Press Ombudsman. Name-calling on this scale is in bad taste. Both Ferraris and Sunday Times will do well if they lift the level of their commenting a notch or two.
 
Finding
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. He can be reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman