Appeal Hearing Decision: Rapport vs Jan Blohm


Mon, Oct 15, 2018

BEFORE THE APPELAS PANEL OF THE PRESS COUNCIL OF SOUTH AFRICA

In the matter of

RAPPORT                                                                      APPLICANT

AND

JAN BLOHM                                                                  RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 3859/06/2018

DECISION

  1. Rapport (“appellant”) appeals against the Ruling of the Press Council Ombud issued against the appellant on 15 June 2018 in favour of Mr Jan Blohm (“respondent”).  The appeal was on a complaint by the respondent in connection with the story which appeared in the appellant’s edition of 20 May 2018, with the headline: “Draf is Jan se nuwe dwelm”.
  2. The story followed an interview which the respondent had had with one of the appellant’s journalists.  The essence of the story was that the respondent, a well-known Afrikaans singer and song writer, had overcome his previous addiction to drugs.  He was now concentrating on running. He said even if he were to be addicted to it, the chance of it killing him was slim, but that it could possibly help him towards participating in the Comrades (Marathon race).  The respondent’s complaint was about the headline, which he said was irresponsible, malicious, and against his effort to rebuild his image. He says the appellant submitted a headline which he approved, but later changed to the one above, which he did not like.  He had no problem with the content of the story, which ended “En kyk, as ek nou aan draf verslaaf raak, is die kans dat dit my kan doodmaak skraal.  Dit kan my dalk net tot by die Comrades help.”
  3. To the complaint that the headline was changed, the appellant says it was entitled to change it and, at any rate, had never undertaken not to change it nor could it give such an undertaking. The appellant also argues that the headline was in any case based on the respondent’s above quoted statement and that running is moreover often referred to as a good “drug”.
  4. In his Ruling, the Ombud dismissed the complaint that the headline was changed from the one the respondent had approved to a different one. But he found that the headline was not a reasonable reflection of the content of the story.  He says the respondent merely mentioned addiction to running as a possibility, whereas the headline elevated that possibility to a reality. He therefore held that the appellant breached section 10.1 of the Code in that the headline was not a reasonable reflection of the contents of the story. A sanction was imposed. The complaint that the headline was malicious was dismissed.
  5. We do believe that the headline was a reasonable reflection of the content of the story and therefore respectfully disagree with the Ombud:
    1. While we appreciate the respondent’s argument that the headline should be considered within the context of his past history, there is nothing necessarily wrong with it. The word “dwelm” (drug) is not necessarily negative; especially if that “nuwe dwelm” is specifically mentioned as being running (an innocuous exercise).  The test is how a reasonable reader would understand the headline; it is an objective test as opposed to a subjective one. A reasonable reader would, even before going into the text, understand the reference to a drug as a metaphor. In this respect, there is much to be said for the appellant’s reliance on the so-called “bane and antidote” rule.
    2. Secondly, the headline resonates not only with the content of the story, but in particular with the portion quoted verbatim in paragraph 2 above. For the article to be newsworthy, reference had to be made to the respondent’s unfortunate past of addiction to drugs.  In doing so, the story showed his progression from addiction to drugs to his new “drug”, namely, running. The overall tone of the article was not negative; it painted the respondent in a positive way, highlighting his new achievements.
  6. For the reasons give above, the appeal must succeed.
  7. The following order is therefore made:

The Ruling of the Ombud dated 15 June 2018 is hereby set aside, and replaced by the following: The complaint against the headline “Draf is Jan se nuwe dwelm” is dismissed.

Dated this 29th day of October 2018

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel

Mr T Makhadi, Media Representative

Ms C Mohlala, Public Representative