Timothy Omotoso vs. Drum magazine


Tue, Jul 31, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

31 July 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Complainant

 

 

Pastor Timothy Omotoso and the Jesus Dominion International ministry

 

 

Lodged by

 

 

Nandipa Magadaza, JDI ministry secretary

 

Date of article

 

 

10 May 2018

 

Headline

 

 

Preyed on by my pastor – One of the victims of Pastor Timothy Omotoso opens up about how she was lured into his depraved world of slavery

 

 

Pages

 

 

10, 11

 

Online

 

 

Yes

 

Author of article

 

 

Nosipiwo Manona

 

Respondent

 

 

Charlene Rolls, editor-in-chief

Complaint                                            

Omotoso complains that the reportage:

·         was untrue and biased, with special reference to the statement that he had:

o   been a “skilled sexual predator who lured young girls into his church and sexually abused them” – while video footage shows that they voluntarily came to the church;

o   “invited” a young girl to join a group – while the band she joined had been started by another pastor;

·         presented allegations as fact (saying that the word “allegedly” was seldom used);

·         omitted to report his denial of the allegations (and that the reporter did not ask church members for their opinion either);

·         branded him as a “Nigerian pastor”, while he had been in this country for over 15 years – which amounted to discrimination, xenophobia and hate speech; and

·         was deliberately defamatory, and unnecessarily tarnished his privacy, dignity and reputation, as well as that of the church.

Omotoso adds that the cover page put more emphasis on him than on the alleged victim’s story, and argues that the allegations against him were not tested in court – which means it was his right to be deemed innocent until proven guilty.

The text

The article was about a young woman who accused Omotoso of using her as a sex slave for two years when she had still been a teenager. The pastor was reportedly facing charges of rape, sexual assault, fraud and being in the country illegally. At the time of publication, the court case was still ongoing.

Proviso

Section 1.7. 3 of the Complaints Procedures states: “Where at any stage of the proceedings it emerges that proceedings before a court are pending on a matter related to the material complained about, the … Ombud … shall forthwith stop the proceedings and set aside the acceptance of the complaint by the Public Advocate, unless it is shown that the issue complained about is not among those that the court is adjudicating.”

As a court case on this matter is currently underway, I am not mandated to adjudicate on matters relating to accuracy – that is for the court to decide. It follows that the outcome of those proceedings will also determine the possible unnecessary tarnishing of Omotoso’s reputation and dignity.  

My mandate, in this case, starts and finishes with journalistic issues that are not likely to influence court proceedings.

Therefore, I am dealing only with the complaint that the reportage has:

·         presented allegations as fact;

·         omitted to report his denial of the allegations (and that the reporter did not ask church members for their opinion);

·         branded him as a “Nigerian pastor” while he had been in this country for over 15 years, which amounted to discrimination, xenophobia and hate speech;

·         put more emphasis on him than on the alleged victim’s story; and

·         invaded his privacy.

The arguments

Allegations presented as fact

Rolls says the word “allegedly” was used throughout the story, and adds that the magazine took great care to ensure it did not state claims and allegations as fact.

Analysis

Even though the word “allegedly” was used only a few times in the article, the reporter consistently presented her text as somebody’s opinion – and conversely, never stated it as fact that Omotoso was guilty.

Denial omitted; views of church members not sought

Rolls says that Manona spoke to Omotoso’s lawyer, Mr Alwyn Griebenow, prior to publication, and argues that this was sufficient.

She explains: “She asked him about the group of women, including the subject of the story, and their specific claims and asked for his comment. She also asked if their testimonies negatively affect the case as led by him and asked if he’d spoken to his client about the women before appearing before the CRL commission. She asked him what he had to say about the testimonies of the alleged victims. His response was that the case is before the court and that he could therefore not discuss it with the media.”

She admits, though, that the article should have published this comment by Griebenow.

The editor adds that the journalist was one of three reporters who were attacked at the church on 20 April 2017, the day Omotoso was arrested, when they asked the church for comment. She says a criminal case is underway related to this attack.

She also says that Manona could not speak to Omotoso directly, given that he was in jail at the time.

Analysis

Given that Omotoso was unavailable for comment, and that Griebenow could not comment on the issue, the magazine has fulfilled its obligations, as required by the Press Code – comments by “members of the church” would have come from secondary sources, and not primary ones.

However, Rolls is correct in admitting that Griebenow’s comment should have been published.

It would be futile for me to speculate whether this omission was deliberate, or if it was merely an oversight. I leave this issue up to the editor to deliberate on.

Discrimination, xenophobia, hate speech

Rolls says DRUM would never incite violence related to xenophobia. “We referred to [Omotoso] as being Nigerian-born because one of the charges against him, stated in the paragraph following that reference, is about him being in South Africa illegally. It would not have made sense to write about the charge without referring to the country of his birth,” she argues.

Analysis

Section 5.1 of the Press Code reads: “Except where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported and it is in the public interest to do so, the media shall avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s … ethnic … origin… nor shall it refer to people’s status in a prejudicial or pejorative context.”

The charge against Omotoso that he was illegally in the country, made the reference to his country of origin relevant. If there was a stigma attached to having been born in Nigeria, it was not the magazines fault – and the publication certainly did nothing to enhance any such stereotyping.

Therefore, I have no reason to believe that the reportage on this matter was “discriminatory” or “denigratory”.

Regarding Omotoso’s complaint that this reference amounted to hate speech and that it had incited violence:

“Hate speech” is defined as follows in Section 5.2 of the Press Code: “The media has the right and indeed the duty to report and comment on all matters of legitimate public interest. This right and duty must, however, be balanced against the obligation not to publish material that amounts to propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence, or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm. (My emphasis.)

How the reference to Omotoso’s country of birth could constitute “incitement to cause harm”, or could be regarded as advocating hatred, is beyond me. Nowhere in the article did the journalist “incite” her readers to cause Omotoso or his church any harm – and it was not DRUM’s fault that the pastor was born in Nigeria, or that he was charged for being illegally in this country.

That was a fact, and it was relevant, as I have argued above – and if the magazine omitted this fact, it would have amounted to self-censorship.

More emphasis on Omotoso than on alleged victim; privacy

Rolls says Omotoso was a high-profile pastor and was the subject of several news stories in various media. “DRUM reports on the news and thus it is reasonable for us to have used his name on our cover, as we would with any high-profile person in the news,” she submits.

Analysis

Even if the article put more emphasis on Omotoso as on the alleged victim, it would not have breached the Press Code for doing so. There were two parties to this dispute, and surely the pastor cannot expect DRUM to have put a picture of the alleged victim on its cover page.

The complaint about the invasion of his privacy is also without foundation. He was a public figure, played a leading role in his circles, and was facing several charges in court – all of which made the matter newsworthy and certainly in the public interest (which outweighs personal interest, in this case).

Finding

The neglect to report Griebenow’s comment was in breach of Section 1.8 of the Press Code which states, “… If the media are unable to obtain [comment from the subject of critical reportage], this shall be reported.”

The rest of the complaint is dismissed.

Seriousness of breaches                                              

Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of the Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1 – minor errors which do not change the thrust of the story), serious breaches (Tier 2), and serious misconduct (Tier 3).

The breach of the Press Code as indicated above is a Tier 2 offence.

Sanction

DRUM is:

·         reprimanded for neglecting to report the response by Omotoso’s legal representative; and

·         directed to publish this decision at the top of page 10 or 11, as well as online (at the top of that page).

The text should:

·         be published at the earliest opportunity after the time for an application for leave to appeal has lapsed or, in the event of such an application, after that ruling;

·     refer to the complaint that was lodged with this office;

·     end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”;

·     be published with the logo of the Press Council (attached); and

·     be prepared by the publication and be approved by me.

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