Complainant: South African Pork Producers’ Organisation
Lodged by: Mr Layton Beard
Date: 26 Nov 2013
Respondent: The Mercury
SAPPO complains about a story, headlined Bringing home the bacon truth, published in The Mercury newspaper on 1 November 2013.
Beard says that the following statements in the story were neither truthful, accurate, fair, substantiated nor verified, namely that:
- pigs in SA were largely the worst treated of all commercially farmed animals;
- any pork not farmed “free-range” was unethical and less healthy to consume; and
- factory-farmed pigs lived in concrete cells with no outside exposure or entertainment, and that they were often fed cheap food which their digestive system could not handle in such large amounts, which in turn increased the need for antibiotics as health issues arose (statements ascribed to nutritional therapist Sara Bilbe).
He adds that the story did not provide proper context as it did not report any alternative view (including that of SAPPO), and that the newspaper in this process allowed itself to be used by a campaign to discredit pig farmers.
The article’s content was very much summarized in the blurb that appeared underneath the headline. It read: “The 2013 Going Whole Hog campaign is dedicated to informing consumers that pigs in South Africa are largely the worst treated of all commercially farmed animals. But conscience aside, what does it mean for those of us who are eating them? Life reports”. The message is that only “genuinely free-range” pork was “ethical” (but not pigs that were confined to cages that did not allow free movement), and also healthier to consume.
SAPPO says that the newspaper agreed to publish follow-up articles, in which its views were presented – but notes that this never happened. The newspaper offered a 2 000- word right of reply, which was not acceptable to SAPPO (as it would have given “credibility” to the article).
The newspaper replies that the article was published in the features pages and argues that it therefore was an opinion and not a hard news story. However, it concedes that it should have contained comment from a pig farmers’ organization. It also states that a follow-up story was never done as SAPPO insisted that it needed to happen on its own terms (for example, on a pig farm of its choice).
The Mercury is correct – it should not allow outside influences to dictate to it what and how to report. Also, it is difficult to follow SAPPO’s argument that a right of reply would have given credibility to the story. On many occasions this office has directed publications to give complainants a right of reply – but never with the inference that the original story gained credibility in that process.
As The Mercury concedes that the article should have contained comment from a pig farmers’ organization, there is no need for a formal finding. However, the newspaper is directed to once again ask SAPPO for its right of reply (of not more than 1 000 words, which should be ample space and which favourably corresponds with the length of the article in question) – an offer which should expire within seven working days after receipt of this ruling. SAPPO is free to express its opinion in this text that it is not lending any kind of credibility to the original article by merely replying to it.
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.