Mike Boyle vs. Die Burger (Oos-Kaap)


Thu, Jul 5, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

5 July 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Complainant

 

 

Mike Boyle

 

 

Date of article

 

 

19 April 2018

 

Headline

 

 

Hele land se verkeer staan stil – Baaise leerlinge ook gestrand (Whole country’s traffic comes to a halt – EP’s learners also stranded)

 

 

Page

 

 

Front page

 

Respondent

 

 

Marga Ley, internal ombud

Complaint                                            

Boyle complains that the headline did not reasonably reflect the content of the article, as the story did not state that the whole country was affected by a bus strike.

The text

The article said that approximately 80% of the country’s passenger bus drivers were on strike, while the national strike that has paralysed the whole country continued. It was also inter alia reported that serious traffic jams occurred, commuters could not get to work, and companies were forced to come to a standstill in several cities.

The arguments

Ley says the article was about a strike of 80% of passenger busses country wide – which meant that the whole country was affected.

She argues that a headline is supposed to give readers the gist of what the article is about, and is not meant (and in fact cannot, due to space restraints) to explain the whole story.

“With this headline the reader got a reasonable reflection of what the article was about,” she says (as required by Section 10.1 of the Press Code).

She denies that any reasonable reader would have interpreted the headline in a way that traffic on every road all over the country came to a standstill.

Boyle replies that the headline was clear that the situation affected the whole country – while neither he (in Port Elizabeth), nor his friends in Cape Town experienced any such disruption. He maintains that the headline was exaggerated and sensational.

Analysis

I agree that the headline overstated the situation to some extent (put some spin on the ball, in journalistic parlance) – if 80% of bus drivers were on strike, it meant that 20% were still working, which in turn would mean that not all traffic came to a standstill; also, traffic comprised of more than bus transport.

It would therefore have been better to state that “bus traffic” came to a halt, and not just “traffic”.

However, one should not interpret the headline too literally – the strike was country-wide, and as such had to affect thousands of people (either directly or indirectly) all over the country.

I am therefore not convinced that this overstatement was so serious as to warrant a finding that it is in breach of the Press Code.

I also need to take the spirit of the Code into account. The essence of the Code, or at least part of the essence, is the statement in the Preamble that the media should not cause unnecessary harm. In this case, I do not believe that this spin on the ball was likely to fall into that trap.

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