Egnatius Thomas vs. Son


Thu, Jun 21, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

21 June 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Complainant

 

 

Egnatius Thomas

 

 

Date of article

 

 

22 March 2018

 

Headline

 

 

Lede in sop oor feestyd se dop

 

Page

 

 

2

 

Online

 

 

Yes

 

Author of article

 

 

Anele Mfazwe

 

Respondent

 

 

Neil Scott, editor

Complaint                                            

Thomas complains that the:

·         story falsely stated or suggested that he had been drinking confiscated liquor while on duty; and

·         journalist did not ask him for comment.

He adds that the reportage has unnecessarily harmed his character and reputation, and has put his job at risk.

The text

The story said that three law enforcement officials and members of the Metro Police of the City of Cape Town were in trouble because they allegedly drank (confiscated) alcohol while on duty.

A picture accompanied the article, in which the three officials, including Thomas, could be seen with alcohol in their hands while in uniform.

Mafese quoted an anonymous source who made these allegations.

The same thing allegedly happened at the Cape Town Carnival (which was on a different occasion).

The City was reportedly investigating the matter, which could lead to Thomas’ dismissal if found guilty.

The arguments

Drinking on duty

Thomas says the picture, captured by himself, stipulated the date and time as 29 December 2017, at 14:53. He also attaches a copy of his work schedule, which shows that he was at work on that day from 6:00 to 14:30.

However, Scott denies there was a date and time on the photo that the newspaper has received.

Confiscated liquor

Thomas says his colleague Gershwin Samuels bought a six-pack at a nearby liquor store and had some of it left when he offered it to him to celebrate the new year. He says he agreed, but did not drink it as he still had to drive back to the West Coast. He also attaches a copy of Samuels’ bank statement, with the amount of what the liquor had cost. He says that footage of his transaction should be available at the liquor store.

Scott replies that on the second picture which was also posted, a bottle of Klipdrift brandy was visible as well – and adds it was clear that the three officials were holding a can of alcohol in their hands.

Cape Town Carnival

Thomas says there were many dignitaries and members of the media present on this occasion. He says he had to interact with members of the public, he asks how could it be possible for him to have been under the influence and put his career at risk while performing such (and other) duties.

Not asked for comment

Thomas complains that Son did not ask him for comment on any of the above-mentioned allegations.

Scott replies that the journalist followed proper protocol procedures in contacting Thomas’ employer, the City of Cape Town – as employees of the City were not allowed to speak to the media. “We published the City’s reply in full,” he adds.

Public interest

Scott says the newspaper’s source worked in the same department as Thomas did, and felt that it was in public interest that the alleged transgressions be published.

Analysis

I need to state upfront that I am not mandated to investigate the question if Thomas was guilty of drinking confiscated alcohol while on duty – the City of Cape Town is busy with such an investigation, and I am not about to interfere in that case.

My task lies somewhere else, namely with the question if Son was justified in its reportage.

Of obvious interest is the fact that Thomas was in uniform while the picture was taken. That, in itself, justified the newspaper’s reportage as the matter clearly was in the public interest. (Like Scott, I also have no indication of the time when the picture was taken.)

I also take into account that the:

·         story never stated it as fact that Thomas had used (confiscated) alcohol while on duty, not even in the caption – Son consistently presented this as an allegation;

·         newspaper followed the correct procedure by asking the City of Cape Town for comment, and not Thomas himself; and

·         issue was in the public interest.

Given all of these considerations, my conclusion underneath has become quite simple.

It follows that I do not believe that the reportage has unnecessarily damaged Thomas’ character and reputation, and has put his job at risk – that will be determined by the outcome of the investigation.

If the City of Cape Town finds Thomas not guilty, Son should report that fact (as required by Section 1.9 of the Press Code). If it does not do a follow-up story in such a case, that could amount to causing him unnecessary harm.

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