Erich Weggelaar vs. Women24 (News24)


Wed, Apr 19, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

19 April 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Erich Weggelaar and those of Lili Radloff, editor of w24 (Women 24).

Weggelaar is complaining about an article in w24 of 4 April 2017, headlined ‘Penis seats’ highlight problem with sexual harassment on public transport.

Complaint                                            

Weggelaar complains that the article:

·         showed explicit content;

·         was grossly sexist and offensive towards men, unfairly inferring that all men are guilty of sexual harassment and must therefore be humiliated in public;

·         promoted humiliation of all men;

·         unfairly targeted all men and discriminated against them, not only the guilty ones – which was not in the public interest.

He asks that the article be revoked as “any encouragement of such behaviour is completely unacceptable”.

The text

The article, written by Carmen Williams (who quoted the New York Times in this regard), was about a campaign championed by UN Women which, in conjunction with the government of Mexico City, installed seats in its public transport system that had been designed to look like a man’s body – penis included.

The idea was to raise awareness about sexual harassment faced by women using public transport.

The story was accompanied by a picture of such a seat.

w24 responds

Radloff replies that the article reported on the action taken by UN Women and the government of Mexico City “to highlight the extremely high incidence of sexual harassment of women on public transport systems” in that city, and pointed out that this problem was not confined to Mexico.

The editor states, “Nowhere does the article in question infer that all men are guilty of harassment, and nowhere do we ask for humiliation of men.” She adds that the matter was in the public interest.

Analysis

Weggelaar is blaming the messenger.

In this case, though, not even the message itself should be blamed – if sexual harassment is such a big problem in Mexico City and elsewhere, I should think that all men should be grateful that somewhere, some people are at least trying to do something about the problem.

When I read the article, the furthest thing from my mind was that the campaign had been accusing all men of sexual harassment, that the male sex had been humiliated, and that w24 had been promoting this – on the contrary, as a man I felt relieved that this problem had been addressed by UN Women, Mexico City, and w24.

I do not for one moment believe that either the message or the messenger can justifiably be said to have achieved the opposite of what they intended to do.

Clearly, this campaign has already at least partly succeeded in what it set out to do, which is to raise awareness and to get people talking about the problem. Weggelaar himself is testimony to that.

Weggelaar says the issue was in the public interest, and not in the way w24 reported it. With respect, I disagree with him. Instead of finding w24 guilty of breaching the SA Code of Ethics and Conduct, I am in fact encouraging the publication to continue pointing out social ills in society, and bringing the public the good news that concerned people are not merely letting important issues, such as this one, drift.

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