Ombudsman dismisses DA complaint

2014-04-12 08:18

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Johannesburg - The Press Ombudsman has dismissed a complaint by the DA stating an apology done by the City Press newspaper on a story it had published was too small, in a ruling released on Friday.

"I appreciate the fact that the newspaper admitted its mistake and summarily corrected and apologised for it," Ombudsman Johan Retief said.

"... I therefore submit that the DA's argument that it did "nothing to correct the significant incorrect impression created about the DA in the original article" is not entirely correct. It certainly did not do "nothing" - the real question is if it did enough."

The City Press published a story on 23 February stating the Democratic Alliance's election manifesto did not mention land, apart from promising that a DA government would allocate an extra R10 billion to "speed up land reform", and provide training and support for emerging farmers.

The DA said the story misrepresented its policy on the reopening of land claims, and the journalist did not give DA leader Helen Zille an opportunity to respond to allegations about its manifesto.

The story also quoted Zille stating the DA did not have a policy on the reopening of land claims, and that she was still working on a position paper.

The City Press published an apology on the story in its next edition, 2 March, on page two.

The correction stated: "Last week [23 February 2014] in City Press we reported on our front page that the DA's elections manifesto did not mention land.

"This was incorrect. The manifesto has a section on land reform. We apologise for the error."

The newspaper also did an interview with the DA's federal chairperson, Wilmot James, about the party's manifesto.

Retief noted that the text in the apology was short and did not indicate an apology or correction, and was published relatively low down on the page.

He also noted the text addresses the core issues, namely that the newspaper had made a mistake by stating the DA's election manifesto did not cover "land".

"I would have preferred an inclusion in this apology of what the newspaper wished to state originally [namely that the manifesto did not mention the re-opening of land claims] and perhaps also a reference to what the manifesto did say about "land"," Retief said.

"However, because the newspaper apologised for its mistake, and in this process addressed the crux of the matter, I am persuaded to give City Press the benefit of the doubt on this issue."

Retief said his "preference" was not strong enough to sway him into deciding that the newspaper had breached the Press Code.

The DA's complaint was that the text published on 2 March was a tiny block in the lower left-hand column on page 2.

"The average reader would never have even noticed it. The mistaken story was a front page lead headline, with a significant story also on the front page," said the DA.

Retief said the content of the apology was sufficient to undo the unnecessary harm that both the story and the sub-headline must have caused the DA.

"The interview with James did enough to correct the wrong impression to which the newspaper has admitted," he said.

Retief also said he believed page two was widely read and he did not think a correction and an apology would be insufficient just because they were published on page two.

- SAPA

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