Appeal Decision: Rapport vs Jan Blom

Mon, Jul 23, 2018

In the matter of

RAPPORT                                                                      APPLICANT


JAN BLOHM                                                                  RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 3859/06/2018


[1]  Mr Jan Blohm (“respondent”) lodged a complaint against Rapport (“applicant”).  The complaint followed an article in the applicant published on 20 May 2018 with the headline “Draf is Jan se nuwe dwelm”.  The story was based on an interview the applicant’s journalist had with the respondent. The story told how the respondent was managing or had managed to have himself rehabilitated from addiction to alcohol. In it, the respondent frankly admitted to his unpleasant past, and says that running has become his new addiction, so much so that he looked forward to running the 2020 Comrades Marathon.

[2]  A draft of the story and the proposed headline were given to the respondent before publication. He was happy with both.  The draft headline was “Jan Blohm in blom/ Jan BLO(h)M weer”.  But the story came up with a different headline: “Draf is Jan se nuwe dwelm”. The respondent immediately lodged a complaint against this headline.  Firstly, he complained that the headline was not the one he had approved.  Applicant’s response was that it had the right to change the heading, as long as it accurately reflected the content of the story. This response could not be assailed. Secondly, the respondent complained, in light of his history and efforts to have himself rehabilitated from his previous addiction, that the headline was irresponsible and malicious. Applicant disputed this; it said the headline was an accurate reflection of the content of the story.

[3]  In his Ruling dated 15 June 2018, the Ombud held:

“Rapport het Art. 10.1 van die Perskode verbreek deurdat die opskrif nie ‘n redelike, en billike, weerspieling van die inhoud van die berig was nie, en Blohm daarom onnodige skade kon berokken het”.

      The rest of the complaint was dismissed.  The appellant is now seeking leaving to appeal this Ruling against it.

[4]  If there are reasonable prospects that the appeal before the Appeals Panel may succeed, I must grant leave. I must now assess such prospects.  Applicant’s defence that the headline derives from, and therefore an accurate reflection of the content of the story, is based, inter alia, on the following statement by the respondent:

“En kyk, sou ek nou aan draf verslaaf raak is die kans dat dit my kan doodmaak skraal. Dit kan my dalk net tot by die Comrades help”.

In motivating its application for leave to appeal, the appellant says, amongst others, the following: “Rapport respectfully submits that the Ombud made material factual and interpretational errors in reaching (his) conclusion”.  The applicant then proceeds to deal with the alleged errors, and also argues that the headline be read figuratively and that the story is a positive one.  The respondent disagrees.

[5]  I have followed closely the Ombud’s reasoning leading to the conclusion he reached.  I am of the view that there is a reasonable chance that the Appeals Panel may come to a different conclusion. Given the fact that I am therefore inclined to grant leave, it would be inappropriate for me to delve into the merits of the case at this stage. For the reasons I give above, the application for leave to appeal is granted.

Dated this 19th day of July 2018

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel