Gun Owners South Africa vs. Jacaranda 94.2 FM
Tue, Feb 27, 2018
Ruling by the Press Ombud
27 February 2018
Gun Owners South Africa
Date of article
23 January 2018
Dangerous things you should avoid keeping in your home
Author of article
Charis Coleman, Head of Content, Kagiso Media Innovation
Gun Owners complain that the following two statements in the article were false, unsubstantiated, fabricated and misleading:
· “…research has shown that in most cases, people are four time more likely to have their gun used against them”; and
· “Another danger of a having a gun in the house is that it has been proven to increase the risk of a firearm homicide or firearm suicide in the home. So, best not to have it, unless you can place it in a safe.”
The complainant does not ask Jacaranda to apologise, merely to publicly retract the statements in dispute.
The article was about items in people’s houses which would be dangerous, including firearms.
Coleman, who oversees the editorial output for the Jacaranda FM website, says the article was pulled immediately after being published “as we noted a few concerns” regarding the copy and the sources used in the story.
She says a public apology is unnecessary “as firstly, internally we questioned the story and the sources used, and secondly there have been no other public complaints around this piece”.
Wright replies that, while Gun Owners appreciates the pulling of the article after concerns and outcry by some readers, it does not ask for an apology, but rather for a public correction regarding the two “facts” mentioned in the extracts from the text above.
He argues, “This is a serious matter, because many individuals of the public genuinely believe these exact falsities precisely because they get glimpses of things such as this from media outlets that they trust… Some members of the public saw that article and read it, and an effort must be made to reach them. While the overall article may not have been a firearm hit piece, what was cited was a gross oversight because of how easily verifiable it was.”
Wright requests that a retraction should mention that the first statement in question (“four times more likely”) is verifiably false and that no studies have ever cited such a finding, and that the other statement (“more likely to be murdered/suicide by firearm”) is biased.
Kudos to Jacaranda 94.2 FM for pulling the story as soon as it realised there were, or might have been, problems regarding the text and the sources used.
I agree with both parties that no apology is necessary.
I also concur with Wright that Jacaranda owes the public a reason for pulling the story – Section 1.10 of the Press Code states, “The media shall make amends for presenting information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by communicating, promptly and with appropriate prominence so as to readily attract attention, a retraction, correction or explanation.”
Clearly, the Code goes further than the mere pulling of a story – a “retraction, correction or explanation” to clarify why the text was withdrawn is also necessary.
However, I am not taking the risk of stating, as Wright asks, that “no studies have ever cited such a finding”, as I have no way of knowing if that is true or not.
As the story was pulled as soon as certain problems were detected, which was an important step in the right direction, I am willing to let bygones be bygones with regards to breaches of the Code regarding the content of the article.
However, the neglect to publish a retraction, correction or explanation as to why the story was pulled, is in breach of Section 1.10 of the Code (as cited above).
Seriousness of breaches
Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of the Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1 – minor errors which do not change the thrust of the story), serious breaches (Tier 2), and serious misconduct (Tier 3).
The breach of the Press Code as indicated above borders between a Tier 1 and a Tier 2 offence.
Jacaranda 94.2 FM is directed to publish its reason(s) for pulling the story, with appropriate prominence.
The text should:
· be published at the earliest opportunity after the time for an application for leave to appeal has lapsed or, in the event of such an application, after that ruling;
· refer to the complaint that was lodged with this office;
· end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”; and
· be prepared by the publication and be approved by me (after I have given the complainant an opportunity to respond to this text).
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.