Brigitte Hass vs. Die Burger


Thu, Oct 18, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

18 October 2018

Particulars

Date of article: 13 August 2018

Headline: Onteiening sonder vergoeding: Trane en skok oor plaaslys; Dis soos dood in die familie – boer

Page: 1

Online: Yes

Respondent: Marga Ley, internal ombud

Complaint                                            

Hess complains that:

  • it was never proven that her farm was on a list of those which was to be expropriated without compensation;
  • the journalist got the name of her farm wrong;
  • she never gave the journalist permission for her personal details to be published;
  • the name of the company that she worked for had nothing to do with the matter; and
  • the reportage has recklessly put her and her family’s life at risk.

The text

The story was about a list of farms allegedly earmarked for expropriation without compensation that was published by AfriForum on its website. The name of one such farm in the Western Cape was reportedly “Montana Stud”.

Hass, from Reinels Montana Stud Farm, near Atlantis, reportedly said she did not know anything about such a list. She said nothing grows on her 7 ha farm (where she breeds racing horses).

The arguments

HASS says a reporter asked her if she knew that her farm was on the list of those that were going to be expropriated without compensation.

She says she told the journalist that:

  • her farm was not called Montana Stud (she says she believes there were at least three other farms that went by that name);
  • it was not proven that her farm was on the list;
  • she did not supply her with an erf number or an address; and
  • she had to investigate the matter further.

She says the journalist never called her back.

Hass says the next day her name and the business she works for (Reinels Stud) were mentioned in the article. She says she never gave permission for her personal details to be used, and strongly objects to this wrongful use of her personal information – which, she submits, was recklessly putting her and her family at risk.

She adds that she has had many worried and concerned phone calls and messages in this regard. She says the community is still fearful and stressed about this matter, and wants this office to severely reprimand the newspaper for its reckless reportage. She also asks for compensation to the amount of R12 000 for harassment, harm and emotional distress caused. 

LEY says the newspaper recognises and sympathises with Hass’s stress and emotion. However, she argues, the media did not cause that stress. She adds that the issue was newsworthy and in the public interest.

She submits that Hass has identified herself to the reporter, knowing full well that she was speaking to a journalist. She argues it is possible that Hass, in her emotional state, did not tell the journalist that she did not want her name to be mentioned.

The internal ombud says Hass may think that her life was in danger, but the fact of the matter is that the list of  targeted farms was publicly available by the time the journalist phoned her.

She adds that nothing about the list or the fact that somebody’s farm has been named as a possible target for expropriation without compensation should endanger anybody’s life, including owner of the farm. 

Analysis

Ley is correct – the list of farms was already in the public domain, and the newspaper was merely the messenger in this regard.

I checked the list that AfriForum has published on its website, and the name “Montana Studfarm” in the Western Cape indeed appears there.

When I googled the name of this farm, the one in question was the only one that appeared – justifying the statement in the story that “Montana Studfarm” was the only one that the newspaper could locate. However, I urge the newspaper to go back to the drawing board to make sure that the reporter spoke to the right person.

With Ley, I also see no reason that the mentioning of Hass’s name and the name of the business she works for will endanger anybody’s life.

I am not in a position to say whether or not Hass asked the journalist to keep her name confidential as there is no written communication available, nor were there any witnesses – at least none was offered to this office.

Lastly, this office does not have the mandate to order monetary compensation for reporting.

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