Simon Pamphilon vsThe Herald


Thu, May 14, 2020

Finding Complaint 4545

Date of Publication:  30/8/19

Headline: Kolisi family, Discovery a match made in heaven

Page: 21

Online: Yes

Author: Motoring Reporter

Particulars

This finding is based on a written complaint by Mr Simon Pamphilon, a lecturer in journalism at Rhodes University, a written response from the (then) editor of The Herald, Ms Nwabisa Makunga, and further arguments by Mr Pamphilon. It also references some of the research done for a previous complaint of a similar nature, as well as a similar article in another publication

Complaint

Mr Pamphilon complains that an article in The Herald under the headline, “Kolisi family, Discovery a match made in heaven”, transgressed section 2.4 of the Press Code, which states:

 “Editorial material shall be kept clearly distinct from advertising and sponsored content.”

  1. Text

1.1 The article, under the byline, Motoring Reporter, and with the headline, “Kolisi family, Discovery a match made in heaven”, features a strap that reads: “Space and convenience proves to be the game changer for Springbok captain, wife and kids”

1.2 The introduction to the article is: “As a Land Rover ambassador for the past five years, Siya Kolisi has had access to some of the finest SUVs available, but the Springbok captain’s latest seven-seat Discovery is his firm favourite.”

1.3 It goes on to explain that when he exchanged his “childhood dream car” – a Range Rover sport – for a 3.0-litre Discovery in 2019, “the rugby flank admittedly thought the swop to be a downgrade.”

But “having lived with the SUV for a year”, the trade ended up “being a blessing in disguise” for him.

1.4 It quotes him as saying that “as a family man”, he now appreciates “space and convenience”, and that as he and his family spend a lot of time on the road, “the Discovery is built for lifestyles exactly like ours.”

1.5 It goes on to explain that he can put his “gear” in the car, either in a duffle bag or dirty on the backseat, and how he particularly likes the “flip-down inner tailgates section, which also acts as a bench.

1.6 He also speaks about the space kids take up: “I feel like I’m packing for a cross-country expedition, even if it’s just for a day out with my family.”

The article goes on to speak about the Discovery’s “loadspace…[and] handy storage compartments with USBs..” Mr Kolisi describes the “drinks cooler” between the front seats as his “favourite feature.”

He extolls the virtues of other features such as the “folding third seat.”

1.7 He says the Discovery makes the drive back to his home town of Zwide in Port Elizabeth, feel like a “pleasure cruise”. The diesel engine makes for “effortless overtaking” and the car is light on fuel.

1.8 The piece concludes with a quote about his friend Kingsley Holgate (an adventurer and TV personality) as having “trekked to some of the remote parts of Africa in a Discovery almost exactly like mine so I know my family and I are safe when the going gets rough on the N2.”

1.9 The article features various pictures of Mr Kolisi and the Land Rover.

  1. Arguments

Mr Pamphilon

2.1 Mr Pamphilon says the text and the pictures (which are not accredited in the piece) come from Motorpress.co.za.

2.2 This is despite the fact that the article is attributed to the “Motoring Reporter.”

2.3 He references a News 24 piece, attributed to Motorpress, which carries the same text and “similar images”. [1]

2.4 Citing Motorpress, Mr Pamphilon says it describes itself as a platform that “allows automative brands a powerful, yet easy-to-use, way to create a corporate newsroom and distribute content to a pre-populated, segmented and regularly updated list of South African and African media.”

On its home page, it says: “Some of the biggest brands in the world have trusted us with their content and media distribution. We have formed great relationships with the awesome people who represent these brands and we are proud to call them our clients.”

2.5 It lists Land Rover as one of its clients.

2.6 Mr Pamphilon argues that this shows The Herald “has not only presented advertising material as editorial content, it has deliberately taken steps to disguise the origins of that content.”

He says such presentation of “advertising material as editorial content is not only unethical, it also serves to create distrust between readers and journalists.”

Ms Nwabisa Makunga for The Herald

2.7 Ms Makunga, the then Editor, replied on behalf of the newspaper.

2.8 She argued that while “the article is about the Land Rover vehicle, it is not an advert.”

2.9 She says it was “never intended to be positioned as such and no money was received by the newspaper for publishing it.”

2.10 She argues the article was “based on a press release”. It clearly states that “Siya Kolisi is an ambassador for the brand, a fact we chose to include in the article so that our readers would be able to put his comment into perspective.”

2.11 The World of Wheels section, where the article was placed, “is a platform” to feature various cars “from dealers, private owners or manufacturers showcasing their latest or best vehicles.”.

“Many of these stories are derived from press releases. This is standard practice.”

2.12 She says she does not believe the article transgressed the Press Code.

Further arguments

2.13 In response, Mr Pamphilon argued that the article “is promotional material supplied by a brand promotion company (Motorpress) on behalf of its corporate client, Land Rover.”

“I imagine Motorpress must be pleased when its press release and images get published as is free of charge, but that does not change the fact that it is advertising.”

2.14 He says the article was not “based” on a press release; it was the press release.

2.15 Moreover, it was published under the byline, “Motoring Reporter”, which is “misleading”. “It was not written by a motoring reporter working for The Herald or any other Tiso Blackstar title [as it was then], nor was it contributed by a freelance motoring reporter. It was written by an employee of Motorpress.”

2.16 He says he would have no problem if the newspaper were “transparent” about where the material came from “but as it stands it is advertising/promotional material being presented as editorial content.”

  1. Analysis

3.1 This complaint is similar in nature to one brought by Mr Pamphilon in 2019 against the Sunday Times. [2]

3.2 That complaint concerned “advertorial” copy produced for the Gauteng government. It comprised three articles and took up most of page 3, usually an important news page.

3.3 We considered in that finding the role of “native advertising” – advertising designed to look like editorial copy – and the controversies it had provoked both here and internationally. In essence, this is advertising but written in the form of an article that is especially leveraged to take advantage of the credibility of a news publication. It often uses the same style and fonts of the publication concerned.

3.4 The perhaps ironic consequence is that by leveraging on such credibility, the placement of such (disguised) advertising features can actually undermine the very credibility it seeks to use.

3.5 One of the most notorious examples of this was a feature in The Atlantic, a well-known analytical and critical magazine published in the United States, sponsored by the Church of Scientology and placed a few days before a highly critical piece on Scientology was due to run in the New Yorker magazine. It was printed in the same font and with the same layout as other pieces in the publication Underneath the head was a small banner in yellow that said “Sponsored Content.”

After an outcry, particularly because the content was so at odds with its readership, it was withdrawn and the Atlantic apologised for it. [3]

3.6 But it was also clear that newspapers and magazine are grappling with declining revenues, and  “native advertising” often helps plug a hole to keep newspapers alive.

This conundrum was highlighted by veteran journalist and media trainer Chris Roper about the difficulty of getting people to pay for news. [4]

3.7 Print publications are often thus forced into accepting advertorial copy simply to battle declining revenues.

3.8 In that case, the Sunday Times just squeaked over the line for various reasons including the fact that the advertorial feature had a “banner” on the top of the page that said “Brought to you by the Gauteng government”, because the copy was attributed to a “Special Reporter”, and because there was no “News” flag on the page.

3.9 In this case, though, the circumstances are quite different.

The feature seems to have been produced in its entirety by a company called “Motorpress” (www.motorpress.co.za), described above.

3.10 It is not attributed to a “special reporter:” but to the “Motoring reporter’. This gives readers the impression that the copy is independently sourced and produced.

However this is not the case.

3.11 News24 used the same copy but attributed it, correctly, to Motorpress. The top of the page of the Wheels24 section, says “Compiled by Leigh-ann Londt”, but the copy is clearly bylined “Motorpress”.

3.12 It is word for word the same as the copy used in The Herald, although the pictures featuring Mr Kolisi and his vehicle are different.

3.13 That a reporter could put his/her byline on copy that emanates from an outside source is unacceptable. Mr Pamphilon did not complain about section 1.13 of the Press Code, which deals with plagiarism, but this piece skirts close to the bone.

3.14 Mr Kolisi, as captain of the Springbok rugby team, is of course a popular public figure, particularly since the team’s victory in the Rugby World Cup last year.

It is a stroke of advertising genius for Land Rover to use him as its brand ambassador, but this does not mean that it is ethical for journalists to use copy produced by a promoter for the vehicle as though it is their own.

3.15 The (then) editor saw nothing wrong with the article as it was “based on a press release” and that this is “standard practice”.

3.16 However, as Mr Pamphilon points out, it was the entire press release

3.17 A newspaper’s primary duty is to the public – specifically, its readers. Reviews of automobiles should be independent. This makes them trustworthy. In the article in question, for instance, there was not even mention of the price of a Discovery (a basic model retails from just over R1 million, according to Land Rover’s website), [5] a fact that readers may find relevant.

3.18 In a way, it is worse that the newspaper did not get paid for placing this copy as its own. An argument about the need for revenues may have made some sense.

But in this case, it allowed an outside agency (Motorpress) to piggyback on the credibility of its product for no return.

 Finding

I find that The Herald has transgressed section 2.4 of the Press Code which states that advertising copy should be made clearly distinct from editorial. This is misleading to readers, as the article has been presented in such a way that it emanates from the editorial stable.

For this it must apologize to its readers.

The headline should contain the word “apology and be linked to the online article and end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”;

It should also be published with the logo of the Press Council and be approved by the Ombudsman.

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.

Pippa Green

Press Ombudsman

May 13, 2020


[1] https://www.wheels24.co.za/NewModels/land-rovers-thrive-in-tough-conditions-heres-why-springbok-captain-siya-kolisi-loves-his-discovery-4x4-20190827

[2] See http://www.presscouncil.org.za/Ruling/View/-mr-simon-pamphilon-vs-sunday-times-4401

[4]

[5] https://www.landrover.co.za/download-a-brochure/index.html