Minunette Heuser vs. Sunday Times


Thu, Aug 30, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

30 August 2018

Particulars

Lodged by: Mr Albert le Roux, chairma: Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary           

Date of article: 29 July 2018

Headline: Lions’ new home no safe haven for big cats: Six rescued lions have died - and funders are pulling the pride

Author of article: Bongani Fuzile

Respondent: Susan Smuts, internal ombud

Complaint                                            

Heuser complains that several statements in the article were:

·         untrue/misleading/unfair (details below); and

·         falsely attributed to her (details below).

They add that the journalist used bully tactics to secure the interview with them, and operated with false pretences.

The text

The article was about the death of six former circus lions at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Vaalwater, Limpopo, that had prompted an investigation by Animal Defenders International (ADI), which it said revealed “an ugly picture of mismanagement, negligence, drunken rages, inappropriate associations and abuse of staff and volunteers, which put our lions at risk”.

The arguments

False, misleading statements

Heuser complains the article falsely stated that:

·         there was “an ugly picture of mismanagement, negligence, drunken rages, inappropriate associations and abuse of staff and volunteers, which put our lions at risk”;

·         “…[the lions] died as a result of gross negligence on Emoya’s part”;

·         she had fed a decaying giraffe carcass to the lions;

·         the external electric fence on the enclosure was inactive and the enclosure was set back deep in the bush;

·         the lions’ death had been “an inside job”;

·         she had claimed to have found first one, then another, commercial meat supplier; and

·         ADI had:

o   provided money for food for three months;

o   transferred emergency funds of $5000 to Emoya for veterinary care;

o   repeatedly requested that Emoya increase security;

o   sent $13000 (about R170000) to Emoya for tents for extra shelter, but the money was never paid to the supplier; and

o   to pay the vet again.

Analysis

There is no need to go into any of the arguments from either side regarding the above. Each and every statement were either attributed to ADI, or to its founders (Messrs Jan Craemer and Tim Phillips). If their statements were incorrect, Heuser should take up the matter with them – and not with the messenger.

Surely ADI had the right to voice its opinion – the same right that Sunday Times had to report it. There was no obligation on Sunday Times to verify the correctness of their statements, as long as the newspaper did not present them as fact, and gave the Heusers a right of reply – which it did, on both counts.

I am also cognisant of the fact that a court case was looming between Emoya, which would in any case preclude this office of pronouncing of the correctness of ADI’s statements.

Statements falsely attributed to Heuser

Heuser denies she said that she would never let the lions go, that she would go to court to keep them, that she did not know what their fuss was, that Emoya fight ADI, and that they would take the matter to court if the lions were removed.

Smuts says the journalist recorded part of the interview, but some quotes came from what Heuser told the reporter while they were inspecting the sanctuary.

Given this situation, I am not in a position to establish whether Heuser in fact uttered the words in question – it is the journalist’s word against that of Heuser.

Bully tactics, false pretences

Heuser complains that that the journalist used bully tactics to secure the interview, and operated with false pretences.

The complainant has given me no reason to believe that she was “bullied” into granting the interview, or that there were any “false pretences” involved – the journalist informed her what the issue was about, and she willingly invited him into her house.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

The 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 Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombud