Complainant: Stafford Geduld
Lodged by: Stafford Geduld
Article: Law firm’s R1,5 m accident claim bungle
Author of article: Estelle Ellis
Date: 04 February 2013
Respondent: The Herald
This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Stafford Geduld and The Herald newspaper, as well as on a hearing that took place in Port Elizabeth on 28 January 2013. Geduld represented himself and Heather Robertson and Estelle Ellis the newspaper. The two members of the Adjudication Panel who assisted me were Neville Woudberg (press representative) and Ethel Manyaka (public representative).
Mr Stafford Geduld complains about a story in The Herald on 18 June 2012 and headlined Law firm’s R1,5 m accident claim bungle.
He complains that the:
· journalist did not verify her information with him;
· the story did not make it clear that the lawyer may have acted on behalf of him, but did not act solely in his interest;
· story insinuated that he was fighting to deprive his former client of compensation;
· story insinuated that he was incompetent, irresponsible and uncaring;
· word “bungle” pointed to a reckless disregard for his rights;
· journalist relied on allegations, not on facts;
· figure of R1,5 million was not factual and was merely used to shock the reader;
· story inaccurately stated that he had failed to file his client’s damages claim against the Fund and the Algoa Bus Co in time;
· story said that R7 500 had been paid out to his former client by the Fund – but states that he was unaware of this;
· story incorrectly reported that he practiced under a wrong name;
· headline was intended to shock;
· it was wrong to state “before she had fully embarked the bus driver closed the door and pulled away”; and
· story smacked of racism.
The story, written by Estelle Ellis, was about Geduld who represented Ms Nosicelo Tshakumani who had been involved in a bus accident (the bus reportedly pulled away before she had fully disembarked). Tshakumani later sued Geduld for failing to file her damages claim in time against the Road Accident Fund and the Algoa Bus Company.
No verification with Raubenheimer
Raubenheimer complains that Ellis did not verify her information with him.
From the papers and at the hearing it became clear that Ellis based her article solely on court papers and that she relied exclusively on the information in these papers and on arguments in court – in which case she had to stick to the rules and report on these documents alone (this is normal procedure).
Geduld voiced his dissatisfaction, not with Ellis but with the system that prevented her from asking him from comment.
Not acting solely in Raubenheimer’s interest
Geduld complains that the story did not make it clear that his lawyer may have acted on his behalf, but that she did not act solely in his interest. He says the law firm Attorneys Joubert, Galpin & Searle acted more in the interest of the Fidelity Fund, argues that this distinction was of fundamental importance, and says that Ellis should have made this distinction.
At the hearing Geduld explained why the lack of the above-mentioned distinction resulted in unfair inferences towards him and his firm.
During this discussion Geduld withdrew his complaint.
The Herald undertook to do a follow-up story in which Geduld’s point of view will be reflected. The newspaper will furnish this text both to him and to the panel prior to publication.
Johan Retief (Press Ombudsman)