Sweet Connection vs Die Son

Complainant: Sweet Connection

Lodged by: F. Ahmed

Article: Sweets-winkel se tameletjie

Date: 21 June 2010

Respondent: Die Son

Complaint
Mr Farouk Ahmed, a lawyer representing the shop Sweet Connection, complains about an article on March 5, 2010 in Die Son, headlined Sweets-winkel se tameletjie.
The complaint is that the article reflects only one side of the story as an invitation to get the other side’s version of events was declined by the newspaper.
It is also complained that Die Son has a vendetta against Sweet Connection.
Analysis
The story is about customers (a man, his wife and a child) who did some shopping at Sweet Connection. The child was putting unwanted products in the trolley. The mother then put the products back – but on the wrong shelves. The story says the woman was reprimanded by a member of staff; her child was also told to get out of the trolley.
The story continues: The son of the owner started to swear at the customers; he was soon joined by the owner herself. The customers reportedly left the shop humiliated. Ahmed is quoted as saying that it was rather the other way around – it was the customers that were rude with the owner’s son.
However, after the story was published Ahmed denies that he made any comment at all. He says he declined to comment as he had required two weeks to prepare a proper statement. He says he invited Die Son to, in the meantime, speak to staff members as well as to look at CCTV to get the other side of the story – but, according to him, this was turned down by the newspaper.
The editor of Die Son, Veronica van der Westhuizen, paints a different picture. She says that:
  • the reporter had indeed obtained a response from Ahmed;
  • she (the editor) presented that response to Ahmed;
  • her impression was that Ahmed was satisfied with how she had presented this response;
  • Ahmed never told Die Son that he needed 14 days for a response;
  • Ahmed never offered Die Son CCTV coverage as evidence; and
  • Ahmed never invited Die Son to interview members of staff.
The attempt by Die Son to get a response from the shop owner and from her representative is undisputed. What is in dispute, is the question whether or not Ahmed gave a quote to the newspaper, as well as if Ahmed invited Die Son to interview members of staff and to have a look at CCTV footage of the event.
The words attributed to Ahmed in the article read like this: “Die klante was ongeskik met my kliënt en was daarom gevra om die winkel te verlaat. En dis waar die klant my kliënt uitgeskel en gevloek het.” Freely translated: “The customers were rude with my client and were therefore asked to leave the shop. And that is when the customer called my client names and swore at her.”
This quote is credible – it is typical of what a spokesperson would say.
Ahmed also reportedly warned that if the article was going to be defamatory he would take the newspaper to court. This is also a characteristic reaction, coming from a lawyer.
Therefore: On the balance of probabilities, it is reasonable to accept that the newspaper did get a quote from Ahmed.
This means that the questions if Die Son was invited to interview members of staff and to view CCTV footage (and has declined the “invitation) are not relevant anymore – the newspaper was responsible in that it:
  • did seek comment from the other side (from the shop owner as well as from Ahmed); and
  • published credible quotes (both direct and indirect) that brought balance and context to the story.
The vendetta-complaint cannot be entertained as our office is only concerned with specific articles and not with reportage over a period of time.
Note that in the story Ahmed’s first name is spelt “Sarouk” instead of “Farouk.”
Finding
The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.
For miss-spelling Ahmed’s first name, Die Son is in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press shall be obliged to report news…accurately.”
Sanction
Die Son is reprimanded for miss-spelling Ahmed’s first name and is directed to publish an appropriate correction.
Appeal
Please note that our Complaints Procedures lays 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