Simon Zwane (Gauteng Health Department) vs Daily Sun

Complainant: Simon Zwane (Gauteng Health Department)

Lodged by: Simon Zwane

Article: Health dept responds – at last

Author of article:  Yeroboam Mafundz

Date: 7 June 2013

Respondent: Daily Sun

Complaint

Mr Simon Zwane complains about a story in the Daily Sun on 26 February 2013, headlined Health dept responds – at last. This was a follow-up to a story that the newspaper published on February 23, headlined Inside Hell Hospital.

He demands a right of reply after the publication of the first story.

The follow-up article included only one sentence from the department’s detailed response. Zwane complains that this was not sufficient and fair.

Analysis

The first story, written by Yeroboam Mafundza, was based on an investigation into the conditions at the Mamelodi Day Hospital in Mamelodi East. The article listed a range of problems affecting patients. The second story contained a quote by Zwane who reportedly said that the newspaper created “a wrongful and unfortunate impression” of the hospital.

Zwane demands a right of reply, arguing that the department submitted a detailed response to the allegations in the first story to set the record straight – and complains that the newspaper only used one sentence from its detailed response. He argues that this was not sufficient and fair.

Daily Sun replies that its reporter has attempted on numerous occasions, starting on 6 December 2012, to obtain comment from the hospital authorities.

The newspaper provided me with a long list of e-mails in which the newspaper requested comment. In one mail the reporter provided a list of the issues that required comment. The hospital did not respond to any of these mails.

Zwane did not explain to me why the hospital did not respond to the many requests for comment.

The newspaper must be commended for demonstrating a commitment to comply with the principle of fair play, which is at the heart of the Press Code – it persisted with its efforts, and even contacted ministerial spokesperson Mr Joe Maila to obtain comment (who was unable to persuade the hospital to respond to the reporter).

The newspaper then decided to proceed with publication. It was only when the hospital management saw the horror in cold, hard print that held a mirror of what the reporter had found that they leapt into action. Sloth gave way to desperation. Somehow the hospital eventually managed to pen a reply which it was unable – and perhaps unwilling – to do for almost two months.

Now the hospital wants the newspaper to publish the bulk of its reply.

The failure of the hospital to respond to the polite and numerous requests by the reporter is a matter that goes beyond the alleged right of reply. It is hoped that government officials will take notice of the hospital’s ineptitude and unwillingness to co-operate with a bona fide public interest investigation that was conducted within the letter and spirit of the Press Code.

Public institutions must accept that they are answerable to the public for whose benefit they exist.

However, I note that the first story did not state that it had been unable to obtain comment from the hospital, as it should have.

Finding

The neglect to state in the newspaper’s first story that it was unable to obtain comment from the hospital was in breach of Art. 2.5 of the Press Code which states: “…If the publication is unable to obtain such comment, this shall be stated in the report.”

The rest of the complaint is dismissed.

Sanction

Daily Sun is cautioned for not stating in the first story that it was unable to obtain comment from the hospital.

The newspaper is directed to publish the following text:

The Press Ombudsman has cautioned Daily Sun for not stating in a story that we were unable to obtain comment (as required by the Press Code) from the Mamelodi Day Hospital in Mamelodi East regarding alleged poor conditions at the institution.

Mr Simon Zwane, the head of communications of the Gauteng health department, complained that we, in a follow-up story headlined Health dept responds – at last (published on 26 February 2013) unfairly and insufficiently used only one sentence from its detailed response. He demanded a full right of reply.

The original story, written by Yeroboam Mafundza, was based on an investigation into the conditions at the hospital.

Press Ombudsman Johan Retief dismissed Zwane’s complaint. He said: “The failure of the hospital to respond to the polite and numerous requests by the reporter is a matter that goes beyond the alleged right of reply. It is hoped that government officials will take notice of the hospital’s ineptitude and unwillingness to co-operate with a bona fide public interest investigation that was conducted within the letter and spirit of the Press Code. Public institutions must accept that they are answerable to the public for whose benefit they exist.”

He also commended us for demonstrating a commitment to comply with the principle of fair play, which is at the heart of the Press Code. “However, the newspaper did not state in the first story – as it should have, according to the Press Code – that it was unable to obtain comment from the hospital,” he said.

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