Torga Optical vs Bulletin (Tzaneen)

Complainant: Torga Optical

Lodged by: Mr Ian Buchanan

Article: Price Watch Tzaneen

Date: 22 September 2011

Respondent: Bulletin

Complaint

Torga Optical (TO) complains about a survey in the Bulletin, published on 26 August 2011, and headlined Price Watch Tzaneen.

TO complains that the survey has:
• published factually incorrect details about the firm; and
• omitted important information.

Analysis

The Bulletin says it presents its survey called Price Watch (PW) “to assist consumers in making informed decisions when having to spend their hard earned cash on daily necessities”.

In this specific edition, PW lists four companies, of which TO is one. Of the four, TO is the second most expensive in the “Eye Test” and the “Most Expensive” sections, most expensive in the “Cheaper Frame” category, and is not listed under the “Mid-Range” heading. Its overall rating is “0 of 4”.

Incorrect details

The survey says that TO sells its “Cheaper frame” for R550.

TO:
• complains that the R550 “is actually a complete price for the frame, the lenses and the latest technology anti scratch protection and Torga’s industry best guarantees”;
• says that the price for the frame only is R200;
• states that the Bulletin did not take enough care in ensuring that it published accurate information;
• notes that its website clearly indicated what it offered;
• says that this reportage wrongly presented a good-for-value-business as an overly expensive one; and
• argues that a “pair of spectacles” means a complete pair – frame and lenses, not just a frame. “This should have been made clear by the Bulletin when the question (to TO) was phrased.”

The Bulletin replies that it is always “extremely careful to get the correct information” as PW is quite a sensitive matter for some suppliers. The newspaper explains that it uses two graduated, experienced journalists who mostly work together. It adds: “We weekly motivate, and sometimes caution, these journalists in group discussions – and both have come up trumps when it comes to reliability and honesty.”

The newspaper also says that its journalists have followed the normal procedure with TO and that the questions posed to the company were the same as those that it asked other opticians.

The Bulletin points out that it has told TO in an email (after the publication of the survey in dispute) that it has a proud record of excellent client service and relations; and that it would have been happy to publish a correction “had you asked for that or had you chosen to discuss the situation with us in a calm and collected way”. The email also read: “We are available to discuss the matter with you, provided that you refrain from insulting us.” It notes that TO did not respond to this invitation.

The newspaper also denies that there was any favouritism, arguing that another optician came off even worse (and saying that the Bulletin’s publisher is a client of this specific optician).

Then, on September 2, the Bulletin published the following text: “Torga Optical has drawn our attention to their price for a bottom of the range pair of glasses, as was stated in last week’s PriceWatch. In the category for cheaper glasses they gave a price tag of R550, but it was not stated that this price includes an eye test.”

The Bulletin says that this was published on page 3, above the fold (“one of the best positions in any newspaper”), and on a colour background. This was done, it argues, “in an effort to be just and correct”. The newspaper adds that it published this “correction” on its own, without any pressure from TO, without incriminating itself and also without putting TO in a bad light.

TO counters that this short article “proves their negligence yet again” – it says that it is not true that its R550 package includes an eye test. (It says its other package, one that costs R749, does include an eye test.)

In response to my question, the Bulletin says that it was made to understand that an eye test was included in the package “after one of the numerous hectic/unpleasant telephone calls by Torga’s people”. The newspaper adds: “If only they had accepted our invitation to set the record straight…”

I conducted my own investigation as to the cost of the cheapest frames and if the R550 package includes an eye test (by having our office phone TO’s branch in Tzaneen).

Yes, the cheapest frame turned out to be R200; but no, it is not true – as TO claims – that the R550 does not include an eye test. It does.

I find this disturbing.

Here are my considerations, firstly regarding the R550 for a cheaper frame (in the survey):
• The amount of R550 for a cheaper frame is inaccurate;
• I am putting down this mistake to a misunderstanding, as I do not believe (a) that TO had any reason to purposefully have presented the newspaper with inaccurate amounts that were potentially harmful to its business, and (b) that the newspaper had any reason to deliberately or maliciously have tried to mislead the public;
• It is reasonable to assume that the misunderstanding could have been avoided if the journalist was more careful and meticulous when gathering her information; and
• A mistake is a mistake and should always be corrected.

Now, with regards to the correction that the Bulletin published: It is praiseworthy that the newspaper tried to correct the mistake on its own; and I accept the page 3 text as it is true that the R550 package includes an eye test. However, I note that the newspaper’s correction did not include a statement that the cost of TO’s cheapest frame was R200.

In its reply to the Bulletin’s response to its complaint, TO says that the survey should have stated that the cost of:
• an eye test is R150 and not R250 (it says a customer gets a R100 voucher for an eye test of R250);
• a cheaper frame is R200 (and not R550);
• a mid-range frame is R600 (the survey does not mention an amount); and
• an expensive frame is R1750 (and not R2500).

In all fairness to the Bulletin, the amounts mentioned above (other than the R200 – R550) were not part of the complaint and the newspaper therefore did not have the chance to respond to these allegations. I am therefore not entertaining these figures.

The survey probably does portray TO as more expensive than it really is (with reference to the R550). But again, I shall not ascribe this to malice when I can put it down to a misunderstanding.

Omitted information

TO complains that the Bulletin has neglected to report that it was also presenting “a great value family offering” – two complete pairs of these spectacles and an eye test for R749. It says that this is unbeatable value for money and complains that the Bulletin nevertheless still rated its offering as 0 – 4. TO adds that the newspaper has “totally misrepresented” its real value offerings.

The Bulletin says that its price enquiries did not research “technical details”, but that it merely asked two or three questions – in this case, the same that it asked the other three opticians. The newspaper argues that it did not try to put together an advertisement for opticians.

Indeed: The survey’s purpose is not to advertise suppliers’ products, but to compare prices. If the Bulletin had included details regarding this “family offering”, it was under an obligation to do so with the other three opticians as well. This would have been an impossible task within the limited space that was available, and an advertisement-like survey would in any case have missed the point of the survey. There are just so many issues that PW can address within a space such as this one.

Finding

Incorrect details

The reference to R550 for a cheaper frame should have read R200. This is in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Press Code that states: “The press is obliged to report news … accurately.”

Omitted information

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

Sanction

The Bulletin is cautioned for getting the cost of TO’s cheapest frame wrong.

I have toyed with the idea of directing the newspaper to publish the figures that TO furnished our office with (mentioned above), but have decided against it.

The newspaper is directed to publish the following text on page 3:

 

On 26 August we published prices of four opticians in our Price Watch. One of them, Torga Optical, lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman for “factually incorrect details”.

Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief found that one piece of information in the survey was incorrect, namely the statement that its cheapest frame cost R550 – whilst it should have read R200. He put this mistake down to a misunderstanding, but cautioned us that it could have been prevented if our journalist was more careful and meticulous.

He dismissed the complaint that we have omitted material information.

Retief accepted a correction that we have published of our own accord and commended us for doing so, but also noted that we did not include the cost of TO’s cheapest frames in that text.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2011) 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, 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 contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman