Cape Town - The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint by
the DA that a report in the Sunday Independent over a "Twitter race
war" was inaccurate and misleading.
Ombudsman Johan Retief, in a ruling released on Monday, said
the Democratic Alliance's complaint was about a story published on 20 April headlined DA digs in amid Twitter race war.
The Democratic Alliance's communications head Gavin Davis
complained that the headline and several statements about the party and leader
Helen Zille were incorrect and misleading.
"The story, written by Shanti Aboobaker, said that, as
political parties ratchet up their election rhetoric, supporters of Zille have
taken to twitter to liken ANC politicians to the Nazis," said Retief.
Aboobaker mentioned a tweet by the user @Blow_Back_Time, who
addressed a message to Zille and Davis saying: "This [Adolf Hitler] is the
real face of Gwede Mantashe".
The tweet contained a picture of Nazi leader Hitler,
complete with a swastika band, next to African National Congress secretary
general Gwede Mantashe. A swastika had been photo-shopped onto the lapel of his
The journalist wrote in the story that although the comments
violated the Electoral Code of Conduct and skirted the boundaries of hate
speech, the DA refused to condemn or distance Zille from them.
Aboobaker added that Zille and Davis "seemed to see
nothing wrong with likening a black South African politician to a genocidal
white supremacist, and refused to condemn the tweet despite a storm of protests
from many of their own followers".
Aboobaker continued that Zille seemed to encourage the
tweeter by calling the message "ironic" because she said the ANC
called her Hitler or a Nazi. The journalist said Zille produced no evidence to
support her claim.
Exaggeration and omission
Davis complained the entire story had been concocted by
resorting to exaggeration and omission.
"Overall, the net effect of these inaccuracies is that
the reader is left with the impression that the DA condones racism and Nazism.
Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.
Sunday Independent executive editor Janet Smith said she
disagreed that the story effectively accused the DA of Nazism.
"Our story grew out of a debate which our reporter
followed which played out on a public twitter feed. Miss Aboobaker is our
designated reporter to follow the DA throughout its campaign."
Smith added that the story only showed that Zille and her
party had themselves attempted to liken the ANC to the Nazis, but not in terms
"This contention is supported in repeated comments
which Ms Zille and the DA had previously made about, for example, 'Gestapo-like
crackdowns' by the 'Zuma SABC' on freedom of speech.
"However, we understand that rhetoric is a major part
of electioneering, and that this so-called negative campaigning was part of the
DA's strategy, as it also was for some other parties," Smith concluded.
Retief said the journalist firstly assumed the person who
tweeted was a DA supporter, which was quite innocent.
"However, from there the reporter not only erroneously
stated that tweet users broke the Electoral Code, but she also explicitly
stated that the DA refused to condemn this or to distance itself from such
transgressions," he said.
It was his view that one could not distance oneself from a
transgression that did not even take place.
He said the journalist hinted at possible hate speech,
whatever its definition, and again directly linked the DA to it.
Thus, Retief found that the electoral code and hate speech
mentions were both in breach of the Press Code.
The code stipulated that the press had to take care to
report news truthfully, accurately and fairly, only present what may reasonably
be true as fact, and exercise care and consideration in matters involving
Retief found the headline misleading.
"Although the headline was not of Aboobaker's making,
it served to fuel the non-existent fire the reporter had, evidently, attempted
to light," he said.
The net effect of the story was in breach of section 2.2 of
the Press Code, which stated that news should be presented in context and in a
The section also stipulated that there should be no
intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion,
exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions or summarisation.
The Sunday Independent was ordered to apologise to the DA,
Zille, and Davis. The paper was directed to publish the sanction and the
finding. It had seven working days to appeal.