The Ministry of Human Settlements, Safety and Liaison vs Daily Dispatch

Complainant: The Ministry of Human Settlements, Safety and Liaison

Lodged by: Lwandile Sicwetsha

Article: 107-year-old woman gives up hope of getting house

Date: 20 February 2014

Respondent: Daily Dispatch

Complaint

The ministry complains about a front page story that appeared in the Daily Dispatch on 27 November 2013, headlined 107-year-old woman gives up hope of getting house.

Sicwetsha says that the headline, the caption and the story were inaccurate and malicious in that they claimed that Ms Buyiswa Jojozi (107, from Butterworth) was still waiting for her home (while she had already received a house).

The text

The story was about Jojozi who had been waiting for a house promised by government in 2011. She reportedly was still living in a temporary shelter “erected for her in 2011 after bulldozers destroyed the informal settlement where she lived”. The caption read: “107-year-old Buyiswa Jojozi along with other residents are still waiting for permanent homes.”

Arguments

Sicwetsha says that Jojozi refused to occupy her house that had been built in 2011. He complains: “The fact that she has received her house is hidden in the last paragraphs of the article, whereas a picture of her waiting outside her temporary shelter was put on the front page.”

Daily Dispatch replies that Jojozi’s house was built by a “Good Samaritan” and not by the Department (as promised). Also: “The department knows that Jojozi refused to take occupation of the house and went back to the temporary structure because she felt unsafe there.”

The newspaper admits, though, that the caption and the headline should have made this clear. It states, “We regret these errors and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

It adds that the Department never checked if Jojozi did occupy her house – if they have done that, they would have known that she still stayed at her temporary shelter. “There was no way that we could have taken Jojozi to the house as our story was about the temporary shelters. We found her there, still occupying a room that was given to her…”

However, the publication says that otherwise the story was correct and wants to include in its apology a statement that the house was built by a Good Samaritan. It says that Human Settlements MEC Helen Sauls-August herself gave Jojozi this information (this was published in the newspaper on 26 January 2011).

Sicwetsha replies that the house was built by one of the Department’s contractors (Motheo Construction), on the initiative of the Department, and rejects the newspaper’s argument.

Analysis

The headline, caption and statement in the story that Jojozi was still waiting for her house were inaccurate and should therefore be corrected.

On the complaint about malice: Definitions of this term include the desire to inflict injury, harm or suffering on somebody else, either because of a hostile impulse or out of deep-seated meanness; it describes the evil intent or desire to harm others or to see them suffer.

It is far from me to ascribe such intentions to either the journalist or the newspaper.

On the Good Samaritan (the builder of Jojozi’s house) matter:

  • Sicwetsha did not initially include this in his complaint;
  • The “Good Samaritan” may have been somebody outside the Department, or it may have referred to someone inside – and even to the Department itself; and
  • The question who built Jojozi’s house, however, is not a central issue – the fact that someone built her a house is the crux of the matter.

Given the above, I am not going to include the “Good Samaritan” issue in either my finding or in the sanction. A correction, as indicated above, should suffice.

Finding

The headline, caption and statement in the story that Jojozi was still waiting for her house were inaccurate and therefore in breach of Section 2.1 of the Press Code that says: “The press shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.”

While the complaint about the (in)accuracy of the statement in question is upheld, the one about malice is dismissed.

Sanction

Daily Dispatch is directed to write a correction as indicated in the finding and to present it to this office prior to publication. The text should end with the following sentence: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.”

This correction should be published on page 2, above the fold.

Appeal

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.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman