Rapport must apologise to university: Ombudsman

By Drum Digital
24 September 2013

Rapport must unconditionally apologise to the University of Stellenbosch and some of its staff for claims made in a report published in June about changes at the university.

Rapport must unconditionally apologise to the University of Stellenbosch and some of its staff for claims made in a report published in June about changes at the university, the Press Ombudsman ruled on Monday.

The newspaper was instructed to apologise to the university's rector, Prof Russel Botman, for making the unfounded and unreasonable allegation that his role was being reduced to that of cutting ribbons and kissing babies.

Press Ombudsman Johan Retief also ordered it to apologise to him for the serious damage this caused to his credibility and reputation.

No publication had the right to report something just because someone said it. The usual norms and standards set out in the Press Code always applied, he said.

He made the ruling in response to a complaint by the university about a story published on page four on June 30, and headlined 'US gets new money boss: amazement as rector's post is scaled down and vice-rector is pushed out".

The university accused reporter Marlene Malan of malicious intent, claiming she had, among other things, made mistakes because she did not check her facts with the university, twisted information, withheld information and combined unrelated matters.

Malan reported that the university had drastically changed the way in which it would be managed, and that it was not renewing the contract of vice-rector of community services and personnel Prof Julian Smith partly because of his part in the collapse of the university's high-performance sports institute, and his appointment of Gugu Ntuli as its head without following proper procedure.

She also reported that Botman would cede his duties as chief executive to Prof Leopold van Huyssteen, and that it was speculated he would serve purely as a ceremonial head who only cut ribbons and kissed babies. She quoted sources who disagreed with this.

Retief found that malice was not behind her errors.

He instructed Rapport to apologise for placing management changes at the university in an unnecessarily negative context, and for coupling these with the renewal of Smith's contract and the developments at the sports centre, and for stating as a fact that the correct procedures were not followed in Ntuli's appointment.

He also reprimanded the newspaper for stating it as a fact that Van Huyssteen would report directly to the university's board. He found the story's sub-heading misleading.

He told Rapport Malan should have asked the university for official comment about the delegation of some of Botman's duties, rather than relying only on the opinions of certain board members.

Rapport was given a worded apology which it was instructed to place above the fold on page four under a headline which contained the word "apology" and a reference to the University of Stellenbosch.

Both parties have seven days to appeal the decision.

-Sapa

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