William Mapena vs. TimesLive


Thu, Aug 16, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

16 August 2018

Particulars

Complainant: Mr William Mapena, speaker of the eThekwini Municipality

Date of article: 5 June 2018

Headline: Councillor to fly rainbow flag with pride despite objection

Author of article: Nivashni Nair

Respondent: Fienie Grobler, executive editor

Complaint                                            

Mapena complains that the article mentioned his name, without having obtained his side of the story; it also did not indicate whether the newspaper attempted to get hold of him.

The text

The article said that, in an act of defiance‚ gay DA councillor Martin Meyer planned to hoist a rainbow flag at Durban’s City Hall. 

This reportedly came after his motion to debate hoisting the flag and recognising Pride Month in Durban was rejected.

Nair quoted Meyer as saying that Mapena rejected his motion to debate the issue‚ arguing that it was not a local government matter.

Pride Month is observed in June each year to honour the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. The riots have been described as a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States.

The eThekwini Municipality reportedly did not immediately respond to queries.

The arguments

Grobler says that, after the first story reported that the municipality did not respond in time to queries, TimesLive did a follow-up article (published on June 7, and headlined Pride month ‘not relevant to local government issues’, says eThekwini Speaker) – which carried an interview with Mapena. He adds that the original story has also been updated with a link to the June 7 story.

Mapena replies that:

·         the story on June 5 merely said that the municipality did not respond in time – while in fact he was “unable to be reached”;

·         the request for comment was not referring to the previous story – it was a new request; and

·         he does not complain about the June 7 story – a first impression of most readers who might not have read the follow-up story were left with incorrect facts.

Analysis

I take into account that TimesLive is an online publication, where:

·         competition to be first (or at least among the first) to carry a story of public importance is fierce; and

·         breaking stories are carried.

While this does not mean that a publication may throw media ethical standards out the window, it also means that reasonable readers understand the nature of the beast that is called online reporting.

With that in mind, it is of the utmost importance how an online publication follows up on an original story – if there are any gaps in it.

In this case, TimesLive has published a follow-up story with Mapena’s comments, and even referred to his views in the headline. Of equal importance is the fact that the original story was updated with a link to the follow-up. This negates the possibility that reasonable readers would be “left with incorrect facts”, as Mapena alleges.

The statement in the original story that the municipality did not “immediately respond” to queries, was factually correct – and it adhered to the last part of Section 1.8 of the Press Code (which states that, “If the media are unable to obtain such comment, this shall be reported”).

The reason for such a situation (that Mapena was not “able to be reached”) is really much of a muchness.

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