Budram Pecku vs. North Coast Courier


Wed, May 2, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

2 May 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Complainant

 

 

Mr Budram Pecku

 

Lodged by

 

 

Pecku

 

Date of article

 

 

13 April 2018

 

Headline

 

 

The booze devil raises tempers in Shaka’s Head

 

Page

 

 

4

 

Online

 

 

Yes

 

Author of article

 

 

Erica Abrahams

 

Respondent

 

 

Helene Eloff; Abrahams

Complaint                                            

Pecku complains that the:

·         journalist has:

o   falsified comments obtained from the pastor of the AFM Church, and that the article was therefore false and misleading;

o   not properly investigated her information;

·         story has:

o   lacked context, as it failed to mention two other licenced taverns that operated in close proximity to his own; and

o   raised doubts regarding his compliance with relevant liquor regulations.

He concludes that the article has unnecessarily brought his reputation and that of his family into disrepute.

The text

The story is about a liquor outlet at Shaka’s Head, ran by Pecku from his house, whose customers posed a threat to passers-by and scared churchgoers away.

Two drunk men reportedly tried to rape a girl (16) in the vicinity – which triggered the community to call for some kind of action (as they believed Pecku’s store to be responsible for a recent increase in intoxicted and disorderly behaviour).

The mother of the girl said, “[Pecku] refuses to do anything so long as he makes his money. A case was opened at Umhlali SAPS but nothing has been done to date. What more needs to happen?”

AFM church pastor Alington Madonsela, whose church was close to Pecku’s premises, reportedly accused him and his wife of being rude and of having a “don’t care” attitude. The story says the pastor was forced to cancel his evening services as his congregation felt unsafe travelling along the road to the church.

Pecku reportedly denied that his liquor store posed a problem. “I am not sure why people are complaining and want to shut my business down. I do know that sometimes people drink alcohol on the road but I do not know what to do about it. SAPS suggested that a security guard be appointed to clear the area and I will think about this. If the community continues to try and close my business down, I want to assure them that I will not go down without a fight,” he reportedly said.

The arguments

Pecku says that a number of anonymous complaints raised to the SAPS for investigation against his business were found to be untrue, including an alleged rape outside his premises.

He claims that individuals in the area were conspiring to bring him into disrepute, and alleges that they were feeding false information to the newspaper – which the newspaper did not properly investigate.

Eloff says Abrahams interviewed:

·         ten residents living in the vicinity;

·         Madonsela on his cell phone;

·         a policewoman who was investigating the complaints;

·         the KZN liquor board district inspector, who confirmed that the complaints were being investigated; and

·        Pecku himself.

The newspaper adds inter alia:

·         Mentioning two other taverns in the area (but not in the same street) would have been irrelevant, as complaints were received about Pecku’s tavern, and not about others;

·         The story did not question the validity of Pecku’s liquor licence; however, according to publisher Bruce Stephenson, the liquor board and police were still busy with their investigations; and

·         While Madonsela’s affidavit states that he had a good relationship with Pecku, the latter has denied this (as can be heard on a voice recording).

Abrahams says, “Seven Shaka’s Head residents came to the Courier office on Tuesday April 3, with complaints about Pecku’s liquor store. This follows one of the residents sending me photos and asking for help on the issue on Facebook messenger. The voice conversation was recorded and there are attached screenshots. I phoned Umhlali SAPS captain Vinny Pillay to confirm the complaint of an alleged attempted rape that took place in the road of the bottle store and if SAPS had been called out to attend complaints from residents. He confirmed that SAPS did receive numerous complaints and said ‘the liquor store was a huge problem’.”

She adds that she went to Shaka’s Head on April 5 where she and a police officer met with approximately ten residents; they also went to Pecku and spoke to him.

The journalist says she also spoke to Madonsela for quite some time on his phone. “The pastor knew who I was from the start of the conversation and he volunteered information which I would have otherwise not have had knowledge of ie. the issue of erecting a higher fence,” she submits.

She says the pastor and his son visited her office after publication, trying to convince her that she had called the wrong number and arguing that the pastor had had an impersonator. However, the reporter submits Madonsela’s neighbour told her the pastor said to him that he did not expect to see his comments in the media.

Eloff replies that the story did not defame Pecku or his family, that the newsgathering and publication were done responsibly, and he was given a right of reply.

Pecku says that the majority of the article was based on hearsay evidence with no credibility. He adds that the recording of conversations can also be construed as entrapment. “This was constructively carried out by the reporter to attempt to combat any legal challenges stemming from her malicious publication,” he asserts.

Analysis

I am not dealing with the veracity of the content of Madonsela’s affidavit – that is not for me to decide, and the latter is in any case not the complainant in this matter. This includes his contested statement that he had a good relationship with the Peckus and had known them for more than ten years, and Pecku’s contrary statement that he has never met the pastor. Clearly, someone is lying, but it is not for me to decide who the culprit was in this instance, as this was not reflected in the article.

The complaint that the newspaper has falsified Madonsela’s comments is an extremely serious one, as it would mean that the newspaper has deliberately misled the public and has maliciously lied in order to suit its own agenda.

Firstly, I have no evidence that the journalist has falsified any information – not the content of the affidavit, or otherwise; instead, I have evidence to the contrary (coming from the police, the KZN liquor board district inspector, residents, and the journalist).

Moreover, the public interest in this story is not in dispute.

I also do not have any evidence that:

·         Abrahams did not properly investigate the story – on the contrary, I commend her for all the effort she did put in to produce a balanced article;

·         the report lacked context, as:

o   there were no complaints about other taverns; and

o   the reasonable reader would not have understood that the story has questioned Pecku’s non-compliance with liquor regulations.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

I note, though, that the story spelt Madonsela’s first name as “Allington” while, in his affidavit, he spells it “Alington”. The newspaper is requested to ensure that it spells his first name correctly when reporting again on the pastor.

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