Ivan Pillay vs. African Times


Tue, Feb 14, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

14 February 2017

Former SARS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay is complaining about a story in African Times of 5 October 2016, headlined SARS rogue unit’s latest victim?

Background

When this complaint landed on my desk, the two parties had already reached consensus on the wording of an apology – all I am called upon to do is to make a ruling on its placement.

The complainant wants the apology on page 1 (as well as on the newspaper’s website); the publication argues that it belongs on page 2 (and does not argue about publication on its website).

The apology

The apology to which the parties consented (with some minor editing from me), reads as follows:

The African Times apologises unreservedly to former SARS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay for wrongly stating that he had lied to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. We retract that statement without reservation and apologise for the inconvenience, embarrassment and harm we caused to Mr Pillay’s reputation and dignity.

On 29 September 2016 (under the headline, SARS rogue unit’s latest victim?) we stated, “[Retired Constitutional Court judge Zak] Yacoob and [Advocate Muzi] Sikhakhane had previously worked together on an investigation commissioned by Gordhan into the then tax boss Oupa Magashula. In that report they both found that Pillay had deliberately lied to Gordhan.”

In fact, the report never made any such finding against Mr Pillay and our reporting in this regard was wrong.

This apology follows a complaint to the Press Council by Mr Pillay.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the Ombud’s ruling in this regard.

Analysis

I am guided by Section 1.9 of the SA Code of Ethics and Conduct which reads, “The media shall make amends for presenting information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by communicating…with appropriate prominence so as to readily attract attention a retraction [etc.] …” (My emphasis.)

In this regard I am keeping the following in mind:

·         The Code does not stipulate that a sanction should be published in exactly the same place and with exactly the same prominence as the offending material – the words “appropriate prominence” are used; and

·         “Appropriate prominence” should take into account the:

o   original placement and prominence; as well as

o   nature of the offence.

I note that the offending statement was:

·         published on page 2;

·         was not published on the front page, while the whole of page 1 was utilized to “advertise” this story;

·         did not form part of the gist of the story although, of course, it was related to it – and neither was it stated or implied on the front page;

·         was of a serious nature, with the potential of causing Pillay huge unnecessary harm; and

·         was removed from the newspaper’s website hours after publication.

Ruling

Given all of the above, I am ruling that “appropriate prominence” in this instance means that the apology should be plugged on the front page, immediately below the masthead, with the words: Apology to former SARS official Ivan Pillay – PAGE 2.

The apology itself should be carried on top of page 2, with the same or a similar headline (again using the words “apology” and “Pillay”).

The full apology should also be published prominently on the home page of the newspaper’s website for a minimum of one day.

Appeal

Our 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