Appeal Decision: Sunday Times vs Edrees Hathurani


Wed, Sep 26, 2018

BEFORE THE APPEALS PANEL OF THE PRESS COUNCIL OF SOUTH AFRICA

In the matter of

SUNDAY TIMES                                                                                                  APPELLANT

AND

EDREES HATHURANI                                                                               RESPONDENTS

MATTER NO: 3832/05/2018

DECISION

  1. This is an appeal by the Sunday Times (“appellant”) against the Ruling by the Press Council Ombud issued 12 June 2018 in favour of Mr Edrees Hathurani (“respondent”).  The appeal turns on a very narrow issue, namely, whether the article cast the respondent as the owner of the company referred to below. The Ruling followed a complaint by the respondent in respect of an article which appeared in the appelant’s publication on 29 August 2018 with the headline “Lawyers snub SARS over bills”. The story was that lawyers were refusing to do work for SARS as the latter was not settling their bills, thereby jeopardizing SARS’s efforts to collect tax from people with a high political profile.  SARS had obtained a preservation order against the company Africa Cash and Carry. The story was not a flattering one.  The article referred to “Africa Cash and Carry’s Hathurani’s”; in another paragraph it spoke of “Hathurani’s African Cash and Carry”.
  2. The respondent’s complaint was summarized by the Ombud, that:

 “?      ’Africa Cash and Carry’s (ACC’s) Edrees Hathurani’, inaccurately and unfairly implied that SARS had taken him, instead of that company, to court, and that he owned that company – adding that it was unnecessary to mention his name in the first place; and

?        that ‘R1.2-billion in assets belonging to Hathurani’s Africa Cash & Carry’, inaccurately and unfairly implied that he had owned the company and that SARS was protecting him.

He adds that the reportage has tarnished his dignity and reputation.”

  1. The Ombud ruled that the article wrongly presented the respondent as the owner of the company, whereas he was not.  His interest in the company was that his family trust was one of the shareholders. It was against that finding that the appellant noted an appeal.
  2. In our view, the appellant is correct to say that the story does nothing more than associate the respondent with the company, a fact he cannot deny because firstly, albeit through a trust, he is a shareholder; secondly, he was involved in the running of the company, very actively.  It would be a huge jump to say reference to the respondent as “Africa Cash & Carry’s Hathurani” and “African Cash & Carry’s Hathurani” amount to making him the owner of the company, let alone the sole owner. The appeal must therefore succeed.
  3. The following Order is made. The Ruling of the Ombud of the Press Council dated 12 June 2018 is hereby set aside.

Dated this 24th day of September 2018

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel

Ms P Fray, Member, Public Representative

Mr T Makhadi, Media Representative