Appeal Decision: Jonathan Wright vs Jacaranda FM 94.2

Tue, May 15, 2018

In the matter of

JONATHAN WRIGHT                                                                                        APPLICANT


JACARANDA FM 94.2                                                                                  RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 3673/02/2018


1.         On 23 January 2018 Jacaranda FM94.2 (“respondent”) published a story online under the headline “Dangerous things you should avoid keeping in your house”; a gun was mentioned as one of them.  The story went on to state the dangers of keeping a gun in the house, and gave some statistical information to support the argument.  The respondent says that shortly after publication and on its own initiative based on internal editorial policy, the story was removed.  I will return to the reason later.   Mr Jonathan Wright (“the applicant”) lodged a complaint with the Office of the Press Ombud.  After the Public Advocate failed to resolve the matter through mediation he referred it to the Ombud for adjudication.  In his Ruling dated 27 February 2018, the Ombud held that the respondent, after pulling the story, failed to provide the reasons therefore; he accordingly ruled that the respondent violated section 1.10 of the Press Code, and imposed a sanction.  The appellant has now lodged an application for leave to appeal this Ruling; the application is opposed by the respondent.

2.         The complaint: The Ombud correctly summarizes the applicant’s complaint as follows:

Gun Owners (represented by the applicant) complain that the following two statements in the article were false, unsubstantiated, fabricated and misleading:

·                ‘... research has shown that in most cases, people are four times more likely to have their gun used against them’; and

·                ‘Another danger of having a gun in the house is that it has been proven to increase the risk of a firearm homicide or firearm suicide in the home.  So, best not to have it, unless you can place it in a safe’.

The complainant does not ask Jacaranda to apologise, merely to publicly retract the statements in dispute”.

Response: In its response, the respondent said that they pulled the story immediately and on their own, because “underlying source material had not been quoted”. It said “neither Jacaranda nor Kagiso Media had any reason to doubt the accuracy after information provided in the story that was published online but was concerned at the lack of appropriate referencing in the story”. It is clear that the respondent did not pull the story because it felt that the content of the story was necessarily wrong.  It is a matter of public knowledge that there has for a long time been a raging debate about the issue of gun ownership.  This brings me to an argument by the applicant: “Even if they had referenced, it doesn’t make the claim true or undo the fact that they disseminated false information”. (Own emphasis).  Is the information false?  The applicant wants to use the adjudication mechanism created by the Press Code for the resolution of complaints against the media to validate the view held by the organization he represents; that is why he is not satisfied with the puling of the story; he does not even want an apology.  What he wants is for us to invalidate the argument advanced by those against gun ownership as being false. It is not for us to adjudicate the debate about gun ownership or possession.  It is a debate society needs.  It might have been better for the applicant to ask for an opportunity to present counter argument, supported by statistics.

3.         There are two points to be made.  A gun is a dangerous thing.  The appellant does not and cannot dispute this; which is why the debate must be allowed.  Secondly, I notice, in any event, that the article constantly mentions that the gun must be kept in the safe. This must be correct a correct call because, in fact, the police may not grant one a licence to possess an arm unless one has a safe to keep it.  A call to those who have guns to keep them in the safe is legitimate; that being the case, it goes a long way towards balancing the article.

4.         The Ombud was correct to say that all the respondent needed to do was to publish an explanation for the pulling down of the story.  The application for leave to appeal has no reasonable prospects of success; it is not for the Appeals Panel to validate or invalidate one or the other argument about the issue of gun ownership.

5.         For the reasons given above, the application is dismissed.

Dated this 12th day of May 2018

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel