Pearl Thusi vs. Sunday Sun


Fri, Aug 5, 2016

Ruling by the Press Ombud

5 August 2016                                                      

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Ms Sarit Tomlinson, on behalf of radio and TV presenter Pearl Thusi, and those of Johan Vos, deputy editor of the Sunday Sun newspaper.

Thusi is complaining about a story on the front page of Sunday Sun of 24 July 2016, headlined ‘Engaged to herself! – Robert’s friends say Pearl’s actions smack of desperation.

Complaint

Thusi complains that the:

·         story was “100% factually incorrect” for stating that she had bought her own engagement ring (while her fiancé bought it for her); and

·         journalist did not ask her for comment.

She also questions the credibility of Sunday Sun’s sources.

She claims the reporter has developed and obsession about her, and the newspaper has published the story to humiliate and destroy her career.

The text

The story, written by Theo Nyhaba, said that Thusi had “apparently” bought herself an engagement ring.

Sources “close to” her boyfriend, sports presenter Robert Marawa, were quoted as saying they were disgusted that Thusi would stoop so low as to buy herself a ring and claim she was engaged to Marawa. The sources reportedly said Marawa told them he was not ready to commit to Thusi, although he was very much in love with her.

“He told us she bought herself the ring, perhaps to create hype for her brand or to chase other guys away… It screams desperation. She’s too hot to be doing that,” one of the sources was quoted as saying.

Nyhaba reported that Thusi had been asked about an engagement the previous day on Phat Joe’s Metro FM show, to which she reportedly replied, “I won’t deny or confirm that I’m engaged. It’s nobody’s business.” The journalist also wrote that Marawa refused to comment, quoting him as saying, “Pearl will be able to answer that question.”

Sunday Sun replies

Vos says the article:

·         made use of three reliable sources, and Sunday Sun “therefore decided that the article is reasonably true and went ahead to print”. He says he is willing to reveal the sources’ names to me on condition that I keep their identities confidential;

·         was in the public interest as both Thusi and Marawa are in the limelight and a celebrity couple; and

·         and the headline did not state anything as fact, but instead treated the information as allegations, with the necessary attributions.

He offered Thusi a right of reply “as she was in New York for a movie shoot during the publication of the story”.

(Thusi has rejected this offer, asking for an apology instead.)

Analysis

Thusi has provided me with a document from a jeweler in a well-known mall in Johannesburg, dated 27 May 2016, detailing the customer’s name as “Robert Marawa”; the item bought is described as a diamond ring.

This is the only concrete piece of evidence that I have to go on – but, I believe, it is enough for me to come to a reasonable finding.

I have now stated this so many times that I have lost track of the number: A publication is not at liberty to publish an allegation just because someone has made it. An allegation may be false or even defamatory, in which case the publication would be committing defamation as well. There has to be a measure of truth to an allegation before it is reasonable and fair to publish it.

I am not going to contact the newspaper’s sources, as I have no reason to believe they would change the story they told the newspaper.

However, the document at my disposal gives me concrete evidence that the sources’ views were merely gossip, without a basis in any sort of truth. As to Thusi, it seems reasonable to me to question the reliability of Nyhaba’s sources.

I also do not accept the newspaper’s “explanation” that Thusi was in New York at the time of publication – with the insinuation that it was therefore not able to ask her for comment. In this day and age, with all the technology available, it should have been possible for a newspaper (which is in the business of communication) to contact Thusi prior to publication.

It is also not good enough to merely cite her refusal to comment to another media institution as an excuse for not to independently trying to elicit comment from her.

Sunday Sun has not provided me with an argument that it tried to contact her; neither has the reporter stated in the article that he was unable to do so (as required by the Code of Ethics and Conduct); neither was there any proper verification of the allegation.

Finding

Sunday Sun is in breach of the following sections of the Code:

·         1.1: “The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”;

·         1.7: “Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a … source and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be stated in such a report”; and

·         1.8: “The media shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication… If the media are unable to obtain such comment, this shall be reported.”

Seriousness of breaches

Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of the Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1), serious breaches (Tier 2) and serious misconduct (Tier 3).                                                                                      

The breaches of the Code of Ethics and Conduct as indicated above are Tier 2 offences.

Sanction

Sunday Sun is directed to apologise to Thusi for:

·         publishing the allegation that she has bought her own engagement ring – which, I believe, has caused her some unnecessary embarrassment;

·         not properly verifying its information; and

·         failing to ask her for comment prior to publication.

The apology should:

·         be announced on the front page;

Both texts should be approved by me.

The headline on page 2 should reflect the content of the text. A heading such as Matter of Fact, or something similar, is not acceptable.

If the offending article appeared on the newspaper’s website, the apology should appear there as well.

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