Appeal Decision:William Prins vs Eyewitness

Mon, Oct 9, 2017

In the matter of

WILLIAM PRINS                                                                                                  APPLICANT


EYEWITNESS NEWS                                                                                  RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 3431/07/2017


1.         On 18 July 2017 Eyewitness News (“respondent”) published on its website a column with the headline “Opinion: Looking at life through a white frame”.  Mr Willem Prins (“applicant”) complained about that opinion piece, lodging a complaint with the Press Ombud.  The introductory sentence to the column pretty summed the substance of it: “The lack of an all-encompassing slur has left us with poking fun or asking rhetorical questions to imply insult.” Decoded, the piece really said that in contrast to people of colour in respect of whom there could be just one word to insult them, such as the “K” word, there wasn’t one in respect of white people; one must therefore resort to using fun or rhetoric questions to imply insult.   The gist of the applicant’s complaint was, as succinctly put by the Ombud, that the column insulted white people, and “contained racial slurring with the intent to hurt”.  The respondent’s answer was that the column was an opinion piece, looking at the life of white people through the prisim of a black person. The column was merely presenting certain expectations which white people have in terms of their perceived privileges.  The Ombud dismissed the complaint as he felt it had no merits; he found, on the contrary, that the column was interesting.

2.         In his application for leave to appeal, the applicant argues that the Ombud’s summary of his complaint shows that the complaint was misunderstood.  He then repeats what he said was his real complaint.  What really emerges is that he equates reference to stereotypes used in the column to an actual racial slur, such as the “K” word.  The latter is held to be dehumanising in itself; on its own, and therefore not comparable.  The Ombud was right. Lamenting the absence of an all-encompassng word to insult white people, does not in itself amount to a racial slur!  In any event, the column is undeniably an opinion piece and therefore protected under the Code.  All these put paid to any hope of the appeal succeeding before the Appeals Panel.  In the absence of such prospects, the application fails. The Ombud said he found the piece interesting. Well, one may add that it was actually a caricature of the truth, deliberately presented in an intellectually stimulating manner.

Dated this 9th day of October 2017

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel