Natasha Boucher vs. Zululand Observer


Sun, Jul 2, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

2 July 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Ms Natasha Boucher and those of Dave Savides, editor of the Zululand Observer newspaper.

Boucher is complaining about a front-page story as well as a video link in Zululand Observer of 16 June 2017, headlined Paedophile grave search – Could the Gert van Rooyen missing girls mystery be solved at last?

Complaint                                            

Boucher complains that the article and the video clip were published without her consent. Other issues she complains about were not included in the reportage.

The text

The article, written by Savides, reported an interview the editor had with Boucher, the older sister of one of the six girls who went missing 18 years ago and are believed to have been abducted by the paedophile Gert van Rooyen.

Arguments

Savides cites the following as the sequence of events:

·         He was tipped off about an excavation taking place at Blythedale Beach and left immediately, accompanied by Laurie Smith and Orrin Singh, news editor and senior reporter respectively;

·         On arrival he saw the forensic team and other people on the beach, where an excavator was at work adjacent to the pipeline where bodies had reportedly been buried;

·         He asked for the SAPS member in charge and identified himself as from the Zululand Observer (although they already knew who he was and addressed him by name);

·         He then spoke to a young woman on the scene who identified herself as Natasha Boucher, older sister of Odette Boucher;

·         He introduced himself and the other journalists to her;

·         Boucher agreed to respond to questions while being videoed;

·         They posed her at the right angle for the sun and with the excavator team working behind her, and began the interview;

·         She responded to questions (as can be seen on the video);

·         This took place a few metres away from the forensic team, who can verify that the formal interview took place;

·         After the interview was concluded, they walked further up the beach and Boucher posed again for a photo (which was used on the front page);

·         She gave the journalists the correct spelling of her name, as well as her phone and e-mail details. At no time did she show any reluctance or unwillingness. On the contrary, she was extremely forthcoming;

·         He was concerned about the fact that there was no apparent counsellor present, in the event a discovery was made and this had traumatic consequences – so he gave her his Zululand Observer business card and added that he was Chairman of LifeLine Zululand, so should she or any other family need counselling, she was welcome to contact him and he would make the necessary arrangements with a colleague in the area; also, should she have any transport or financial issues, he would assist to resolve those matters;

·         The story had no new revelations and did not discredit Boucher in any way;

·         It came as a shock to him the next morning to learn that she had pasted on Facebook that she did not know she was being interviewed – he chose not to respond to this; and

·         He can only assume Boucher’s about-turn came because she had promised the TV-programme Fokus an exclusive (of which he was unaware) and realised after publication she had compromised herself.

Boucher denies that she was introduced to Savides and that she knew he was a journalist – “If I was, I would have taken heed and walked away. Mr Savides only said that he had been working on this case for 15 years,” she says.

She says she remembers Savides saying that he would like to ask her some questions, to which she responded positively (thinking it was an informal talk) because he told her that he would like to show her a wall where Fiona Harvey (one of the six girls who went missing) had written her name – which she was eager to see.

“On our way back from searching for the wall, Mr. Savides requested that I sit down for a photo for future reference.  No interview commenced,” she submits.

She adds, “I did not see a video recording being made, to me it was dark images standing in front of me, my eyes are light sensitive, for which I am supposed to wear special lenses. I saw 2 people towering over me Mr. Savides to my left. I speak openly and generally, as I have nothing to hide, it still does not give them the right to publish without my written or verbal consent to publish.” (unedited)

Boucher submits that she would have refused the interview if she knew who Savides was or what his intentions were “[as] there were other implications to which the Zululand Observer and Mr Savides and his team were not privy but disrespectful enough not to care or take the wisdom and time to ask properly, thinking only of the sensational value that it would hold for them”.

She adds she would never agree to a video interview as she has a birth mark on the right side of her face of which she is very self-conscious. “If I was aware [it was an interview] I would not expose it, as in the Fokus program where you will note that I was filmed only showing the left side of my face.”

She says she does not recall giving her contact details to the editor – if she did, it was because he said he wanted to contact her for a future interview.

Boucher also complains that the story attributed statements to her she did not say – she says the only non-fabricated quote was that she had said she had hope, but she was also a realist.

She adds, though, that “[At] the end of the day, I don’t care what was published, for the ZO it is not about the truth … but about sensationalism.”

The complainant concludes that hurt what most was that she was refused access to the site the day after publication, because of the article in the Zululand Observer. “I wanted to die. The Zululand Observer stole that from me… That is why I went to the Press Ombudsman.  No amount of saying sorry, or retracting of stories can amend the fact that I did not give permission to publish,” she says.

Analysis

First and foremost, I realise that my sympathy for those who are still suffering as a result of the disappearance of the six girls should not cloud my judgment.

From the video clip it does not appear that Boucher was ambushed into an interview, or that she did not realise what was happening. From the angle as well as from the shadows behind her, it is clear that the photographer stood a meter or so away from her, next to the editor – which made it difficult to argue that she did not know.

Therefore, I have no reason to find that the newspaper published the story and made the video available without her consent. In fact, after she willingly answered questions, spoke on tape, and indeed also posed for a picture, I do not believe that the newspaper needed further consent.

With regards to her complaint that the editor has fabricated her words, I submit – with all respect – that, if she did not realise she was being video-taped, I can hardly expect her to remember what she said.

I also note that she did say some of the things Savides reported. None of the issues mentioned in the interview, though, was likely to cause her any 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