Rochelle John vs. The Citizen


Thu, Sep 7, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

7 September 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Ms Rochelle John and those of Charles Cilliers, digital editor of The Citizen newspaper.

John is complaining about a story in The Citizen of 26 August 2017, headlined McBride denies he assaulted his daughter.

Complaint                                            

John complains that she was not given an opportunity to comment on the inaccurate and harmful allegations (details below) made against her.

The text

The story, written by Amanda Watson, said that Independent Police Investigating Directorate (Ipid) boss Robert McBride had opened a case of abducting his daughter (15) against John. The latter allegedly also had “a history of fabricating cases”, and had been linked to an investigation into the former acting national commissioner, Kgomotso Phahlane.

This came after a case of assault for allegedly choking his daughter had reportedly been opened against McBride – an allegation he denied.

An unnamed source reportedly said that McBride had reprimanded, but had not touched the girl. When he later returned home, his daughter had been “taken by a certain Rochelle John, a friend of his ex-wife”, without his permission.

The source also said that John had asked McBride two weeks earlier to squash her traffic fines, and that she tried to extract money from the family.

Watson reported, “Documents seen by The Citizen show John has a long record of reporting cases to the police. In 1998 she reported a theft (undetected); in 1999 there was a theft of motor vehicle; in 2000 she reported someone for supplying false details to the police (withdrawn); in 2002 there was another theft (undetected); in 2003 a theft; in 2007 an assault (declined to prosecute); in 2011 a forgery (decline to prosecute); in 2015 another theft (undetected); in 2016 she reported a parent/guardian for assaulting a child with cable (filed); and in 2016 again she reported yet another theft.”

These cases had been reported at the Yeoville, Randburg, Sandton, Sandringham, Norwood, Rosebank and Alexandra police stations over the years.

In a statement, McBride said he did not believe that John had his daughter’s interest at heart, and added that she also (illegally) posted pictures of his daughter without any concern that the minor would be identified.

He added that Ipid had uncovered evidence linking Phahlane to a service provider who bought vehicles for at least one of the latter’s relatives – and said a link had been established between John and this service provider.

He said, “I am, therefore, not surprised that a normal family disagreement with my daughter … would be turned into a public spectacle just to get at me.

“Out of concern for my daughter, I have also opened a case of abduction against Rochelle John on the basis that she has no legal standing to be in custody of my minor child as she is not the guardian, teacher, doctor, district surgeon or youth counsellor, all of whom could have done so, if there was any reason to open a case in the interest of the child.”

John reportedly declined to speak to The Citizen.

The Citizen responds

Cilliers says Watson spoke to John on three different occasions. On the first occasion, the journalist tried to put the allegations to her, but John declined to comment (which was captured in the story).

He says the statement that John did not want to comment was accidentally deleted during an editing process. This was soon corrected. “There was no deliberate attempt to not offer Ms John’s side of the story or to make out that she did not have a side,” he states.

The editor adds that Watson and John spoke again later, and the latter told the journalist that she rejected the allegations. The reporter wrote this story, but it was not published after John made it known she did not want it published any more. “We honoured this request,” he says.

The two spoke on a third occasion (this time, at the house where McBride’s daughter was) – and again John did not want to go on the record, he says.

Cilliers concludes, “I feel The Citizen did try to get her side of the matter and there was no deliberate attempt to defame her or be part of any alleged defamation that may have resulted from McBride’s statement being published.”

He also refers to a public interest in publishing McBride’s version of events. “If, in the process of him giving that version, he made statements against Ms John that he shouldn’t have, then she should correct that and put her version forward,” he argues.

He assures this office that The Citizen is still keen to obtain and publish John’s side of the matter.

Analysis

The Citizen provided me with a voice recording of a conversation between Watson and John, in which the latter refused to comment. I am also in possession of an e-mail, dated August 27, in which John told the reporter that she would not give her permission to publish her comments (as stated by Cilliers).

Given this evidence, it is difficult to understand John’s complaint that Watson did not give her a right of reply. The journalist certainly did just that.

I also agree with Cilliers that the issue was in the public interest, and that the newspaper was justified to publish McBride’s allegations against John. If those allegations were untrue, it was up to her to correct them.

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