Conrad Gallagher and The Chefs Playground vs News24


Tue, Mar 29, 2022

21 March 2022

Finding: Complaint 9375

Date of publication:  20 November 2021

Headline: Cook or crook? The celebrity chef from Gqeberha, the Saudi crown prince and R500 000 wagyu steaks

Author: Samantha Herbst

Particulars

This finding is based on a written complaint by Mr Jerome Levitz of Fluxmans Inc on behalf of Mr Conrad Gallagher and The Chefs Playground, together with various annexures; a written reply by News24 Public Editor Dr George Claassen and freelance journalist Ms Samantha Herbst, as well as a number of annexures; and a written response to News24’s reply on behalf of the complainants by Mr Levitz, along with additional annexures.

Complaint

The complainants submit that the article transgresses the following clauses in Section 1 of the Press Code:

“The media shall:

1.1 take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly;

1.2 present news in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization;

1.3 present only what may reasonably be true as fact; opinions, allegations, rumours or suppositions shall be presented clearly as such;

1.4 obtain news legally, honestly and fairly, unless public interest dictates otherwise;

1.7 verify the accuracy of doubtful information, if practicable; if not, this shall be stated;

1.8 seek, if practicable, the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication, except when they might be prevented from reporting, or evidence destroyed, or sources intimidated. Such a subject should be afforded reasonable time to respond; if unable to obtain comment, this shall be stated.”

  1. Summary of text

1.1. The article reports on various business ventures of Conrad Gallagher, an internationally renowned chef and restauranteur who was born in Ireland and now lives in South Africa.

1.2. According to the article, he has developed a reputation as “a serial scamster and debt dodger who has spent the last two decades shirking all financial responsibility, leaving restaurant purveyors and vulnerable employees high and dry”.

1.3. His first business venture, Peacock Alley in Dublin, earned him a Michelin star in 1998. However, according to the article, this restaurant was also the first in a number of unsuccessful business ventures.

1.4. Gallagher’s current clients include Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who reportedly contracted the chef-turned-restauranteur in June 2021 to cater for a party at the Ekland Game Farm in Makhado, Limpopo.

1.4.1. According to the article, Gallagher ordered close to half-a-million rands’ worth of wagyu beef cuts from Dry Ager Deli Supplies in the lead-up to the Ekland contract.

1.4.2. News24 quoted the company’s CEO, Chris Fourie, as claiming that Gallagher confirmed the order when he contacted him, and that he informed him that he would “drop” R200 000 that same day to secure the order. However, this promise was reportedly not kept.

1.4.3. Gallagher subsequently cancelled the order and informed Fourie that his client was no longer coming to Ekland – after Dry Ager had already bought the carcasses required.

1.5. A few weeks later, Gallagher contacted Fourie again for the wagyu steaks and told him that the Saudi visit was on again.

1.5.1. This time Fourie requested payment prior to delivery. Gallagher agreed to this, and subsequently made weekly payments amounting to a total of R150 000. Fourie was reportedly assured that he would receive the balance once the meat was delivered to Ekland.

1.5.2. However, after the meat was delivered, the restauranteur reportedly informed Fourie a few hours later that it was of poor quality and that, as a result, Dry Ager would not be paid for the balance of the order.

1.5.3. Fourie says he would have refunded Gallagher in full if he had returned the spoiled meat. But, as this was not done, he invoiced Gallagher for the R142 000 still owed to Dry Ager.

1.6. According to the News24 article, this incident followed in the wake of what it describes as “a flurry of indiscretions overseas” which preceded his move to South Africa in 2003. These reportedly included his arrest, extradition and acquittal for the alleged theft of three paintings from a Dublin hotel.

1.6.1. After he moved to South Africa, Gallagher opened Geisha Wok & Noodle Bar and six Sundance Gourmet Coffee Company franchises in Cape Town. Two years later, however, Geisha Wok staff reportedly downed tools in protest against non-payment.

1.6.2. Gallagher was subsequently declared bankrupt by a South African court and returned to Ireland. There he opened two new restaurants under two different companies; both were declared insolvent by 2011.

1.6.3. According to the News24 article, this appears to be Gallagher’s modus operandi – “to open clusters of upmarket restaurants and rack up a significant amount of debt before fleeing the scene and popping up in another corner of the world”.

1.7. After his Ireland restaurants went bankrupt, Gallagher returned to the United States in 2012. Within a year, according to News24, he left New York for Las Vegas amid what it refers to as “further allegations of unpaid suppliers and illicit operations”.

1.7.1. Gallagher opened PoshBurger Bistro in Las Vegas in 2013, but closed shop after three months – “in another flurry of unpaid bills and outstanding wages”.

1.8. The restauranteur returned to South Africa in 2014, and opened Café Chic in Cape Town.

1.8.1. In response, former Geisha Wok employees – whose UIF was allegedly not paid and who were reportedly still owed outstanding tips and wages – turned to social media and local news outlets and demanded “retribution”. They called on the public to boycott Café Chic.

1.8.2. According to the News 24 article, Gallagher told City Press that Geisha’s creditors had all been paid when, in fact, his sequestration in 2009 had absolved him from having to pay his South African creditors.

1.9. Cape Town baker and entrepreneur Jacqui Biess, the owner of Charly's Bakery, told News24 of complaints by Café Chic’s landlord about non-payment. She further claimed that staff alleged that their salaries and tips were not paid.

1.9.1. According to Biess, she was “shortchanged” by Gallagher in the early 2000s: he reportedly emailed her proof of payment, but then immediately withdrew the money. After much persistence, she eventually received the money owed to Charly’s Bakery.

1.10. In 2016, Gallagher opened Gallagher’s on Stanley in Gqeberha, the hometown of his wife Candice Coetzee. This venture, too, did not last long and was reportedly in trouble just weeks after opening.

1.10.1. The News24 article claimed: “So he quit, leaving behind another string of out-of-pocket suppliers after being served with another eviction order.”

1.11. In response to questions from News24, Gallagher said he was travelling and would respond “in due course”. The article noted that he failed to do so prior to publication and that his response would be added when received.

  1. Arguments

Conrad Gallagher and The Chef’s Playground

2.1. The complainants take issue with the headline of the article, and submit that it is sensationalist and imputes that Gallagher is “a criminal, dishonest and should not be trusted”.

2.2. The complainants also take issue with the contents of the article and contend that it imputes that Gallagher is “a serial scamster and debt dodger” who participates in dishonest schemes in that he starts a restaurant and then avoids financial responsibility when it fails.

2.3. The complainants acknowledge that some of Gallagher’s business ventures were unsuccessful, but argue that this is the nature of entrepreneurship (particularly in the hospitality industry), and not because he set out to defraud any parties.

2.3.1. They submit that Gallagher did everything he could to save each business when financial difficulties arose. His failure to do so, they contend, does not make him a fraud or someone who deliberately seeks to avoid his debts.

2.3.2. The complainants further argue that referring to Gallagher as “the sketchy chef” and to his business ventures as “dubious” suggest that he is dishonest and cannot be trusted. They dismiss these references as unfounded, misleading and unfair.

2.4. The complainants also describe various claims in the article by Fourie as unfounded.

2.4.1. According to the complainants, Off the Menu Food Emporium placed four orders with Dry Ager (Annexures A to D), which amount to a total of R306 590.53. They claim that Dry Ager made an overpayment of R317.555.53, and that the food emporium in fact owes the complainants an amount of R10 965.00.

2.4.2. Regarding INVOOOO134 (Annexure B), which relates to the meat delivered by Dry Ager with a delivery note dated 25 May 2021, the complainants state that there was concern that no culling date nor “best before date” was provided.

2.4.3. They further submit that INVOOOO154 was treated as a separate order instead of as part of INVOOOO132 (Annexure C); that meat to the value of R68 2220.00 [presumably R68 220] was never delivered as part of the initial order due to an alleged theft at the supplier’s warehouse; that some meat was under-delivered; and that the cost of the products in INVOOOO154 was highly inflated.

2.4.4. The complainants decided to cancel the delivery of the rest of the order on 16 June 2021 due to what they regarded as the “substandard quality” of the meat (Annexures E to J feature photographs of the meat in question).

2.4.5. They further deny that Off the Menu Food Emporium owes Dry Ager an amount of R10 711.16 for INVOOOO155, and argue that this can be offset against the overpayment of R10 965.00 (see point 2.4.1). According to them, this means Dry Ager in fact owes them R253.84.

2.4.6. The complainants submit that Dry Ager and Fourie presented “a deliberately misleading set of allegations alleging that [they] have left a trail of unpaid bad debts”, and regard this as an attempt to litigate through the media.

2.5. They further argue that Gallagher was acquitted of the theft of three paintings, and therefore view as malicious and unfair News 24’s inclusion of this incident as among “a flurry of indiscretions”.

2.6. They also take exception to the reference to Gallagher’s “illicit operations” in Las Vegas, and dismiss this as a “scurrilous allegation devoid of any merit”.  They contend that his failure to pay suppliers once a business venture went bankrupt does not mean that the entire operation was unlawful.

2.7. They also deny any knowledge of any indebtedness to Charly’s Bakery and reject the suggestion that Gallagher provided proof of payment under “pretences”. It further claims that transactions cannot be reversed without the consent of the payment beneficiary.

2.8. The complainants therefore submit that the article is “highly defamatory”, and to Gallagher in particular.

2.9. In addition, they claim Gallagher was not given “reasonable time” to respond to enquiries from the journalist. They believe the 36 hours he was given on 18 November 2021 was inadequate, given that he was then travelling from the Middle East to South Africa.

2.9.1. The complainants also take issue with the fact that the questions were not confined to Gallagher’s current business dealings, but included questions relating to past business ventures. Furthermore, they contend, the questions did not address some of the aspects included in the article.

2.9.2. In view of the above, the complainants believe there was “no real attempt” to secure Gallagher’s views, and submit that there was “no intention of disturbing the biased and unbalanced article by securing meaningful and proper comment”.

2.10. The complainants therefore demand a formal apology, published with the same prominence as the original article, and an opportunity to give a formal right of reply.

News24 and Samantha Herbst

2.11. In response to complaints that certain adjectives and phrases in the News24 article depict Gallagher as a dubious businessman, the respondents submit that there were already a number of articles in the public domain before then which characterise him as such, and provide a list of news articles that they claim offer additional details of his questionable business conduct (Annexure A).

2.11.1. They state that all their sources can attest to payments not honoured by Gallagher. And while they acknowledge that “failed business attempts in the entrepreneurial space is commonplace enough”, they contend that “repeatedly leaving suppliers high and dry is not”.

2.12. Regarding the complainants’ objections to the payment default to Dry Ager, they refer to WhatsApp correspondence between Gallagher and Fourie (Annexure B).

2.12.1. They point out that, even though Gallagher describes the reported content on Dry Ager as “unfounded”, his correspondence with Fourie in the WhatsApp correspondence proves otherwise. The complainants further note that Herbst provided invoices that Fourie had sent to Gallagher (Annexure C).

2.12.2. The respondents contend that, together with the WhatsApp chat history and the invoices provided to the journalist, the allegation in the article is accurate. They claim that Gallagher still owes Fourie R142 000.

2.13. The respondents add that Herbst has additional sources willing to corroborate Gallagher’s “latest slew of non-payments”, and include four former employers who were fired or resigned during the last year as well as several suppliers who were still waiting for payment at the time of publication.

2.14. According to Annexures D and E, Herbst contacted Gallagher on 18 November 2021 at 9.08am and gave him 36 hours to respond to questions. She offered him an opportunity to respond to questions about his new business ventures as well as to allegations of non-payment to Dry Ager and Charly’s Bakery.

2.14.1. Gallagher replied in writing at 12.37pm that same day and indicated that he would respond “in due course” and noted that he was travelling. If he had asked for more than the 36 hours provided for right of reply due to his travels, News24 says, it would have obliged.

2.14.2. According to News24, Fourie was approached by the complainants’ lawyers on the same day Herbst emailed Gallagher, and was told he would be issued with a payment demand. News24 is convinced this was in reaction to the questions the journalist put to Gallagher on the matter that same day.

2.14.3. News24 contends that, if Gallagher’s lawyers had the opportunity to contact Fourie, then they could also have responded on behalf of Gallagher to its emailed questions and requested more time to respond.

2.15. The respondents further submit that, according to Biess, Investec was the only bank in the early 2000s that allowed for payment reversal without the consent of the beneficiary after a proof of payment was delivered. They said this has since been “rectified” by Investec, but would have been possible when Charly’s Bakery did not receive payment as promised.

2.16. In conclusion, the respondents state that the article was written with the public interest in mind and in accordance with the Press Code. News24 denies the complainants’ contention that it did not uphold clause 1.8 of the Press Code, and said it would have included Gallagher’s response had he provided his version of events or offered new information.

2.16.1. The respondents contend that the complainant was afforded reasonable time to respond, and point out that the article was published along with the following wording: In response to questions from News24, Gallagher advised that he was travelling and would respond ‘in due course’, which he failed to do prior to publication.”

2.16.2. It concedes that the journalist had been working on the article for some time, but had reason to believe that her sources would have been “compromised or intimidated further had the complainant been given more time to respond”.

2.16.3. According to the respondents, Gallagher was previously given an opportunity to set the record straight on at least two occasions. These were published, “only for him to repeat his cycle of failed businesses and defaulted payments”.

2.16.4. In light of this, News24 submits that it cannot see why it is in the public interest to offer him any more of a platform than that already afforded to him by other news agencies: “He has no doubt compromised his own credibility and we have no reason to believe that this has changed.”

2.17. With regard to the claim that the article is “highly defamatory”, News 24 responded that – after an extensive review of the journalist’s sources (both on and off the record), together with  information already in the public domain – any defamation that was caused was by Gallagher’s own actions and not the result of its article.

2.17.1. News24 further contends that the facts in its story about Gallagher’s business dealings are “true”, and that it is in the public interest to publish these facts – “both counters against being accused of defaming the complainant”.

2.18. In addition to the above response, the respondents submitted an email in which News24’s Editor-in-Chief, Adriaan Basson, states that News24 declines to apologise to Gallagher.

2.18.1. Basson maintains that Gallagher was given “reasonable opportunity” to respond, and did not request an extension of time. Instead, he contacted his lawyers, who did not use the opportunity to respond either and only complained to the Press Council almost a month later.

2.18.2. According to Basson, News24 will consider adding a comment from Gallagher at the bottom of the article after it was fact-checked.

Further arguments

2.19. In reply to News24’s response, the complainants dispute the assertion that a number of articles in the public domain “for the most part” characterise Gallagher as criminal and dishonest, and take issue with the contents of some of the articles that News24 lists in support of this claim (they refer to articles by The Irish Times and Amabhungane as examples).

2.20. Secondly, the complainants deny that the WhatsApp correspondence between Gallagher and Fourie does not prove their claim that Fourie’s allegations against Gallagher are unfounded.

2.20.1. They submit that the correspondence makes it clear that there was a dispute between the two parties about the quality of the meat delivered by Dry Ager and, hence, about the existence of a valid debt to Dry Ager.

2.20.2. They argue that the journalist should accordingly have acted with far greater circumspection instead of pursuing what they regard as a “decidedly one-sided narrative”. They add that subsequently affording Gallagher an opportunity to respond was not the point.

2.20.3. The complainants further note that Fourie accepted that there was a problem with the quality of the meat. Yet, they contend, this was not mentioned in the article – “a material omission” (in breach of Clause 1.2).[1] This omission, they submit, “would in the circumstances have led the reasonable reader to treat … Fourie’s version … with great caution”.

2.20.4. The complainants deny that they owe Dry Ager R142 000 or any other amount. They reiterate their contention that the cost of the products was highly inflated, that the meat was of poor quality and that they received less meat than ordered.

2.21. The complainants also take issue with the fact that the article does not mention correspondence from their previous attorneys to Fourie, “from which it would have been immediately apparent that the alleged indebtedness is disputed on bona fide grounds”.

2.21.1. The previous attorneys of the complainants invited Fourie to take legal action. Instead, they submit, he approached News24 in an attempt to put pressure on the complainants to settle a disputed debt.

2.22. Lastly, the complainants reject as scurrilous the statement by News24 that Gallagher was not given more time to respond in order to avoid their sources being compromised or intimidated further. They contend that they were legally entitled to communicate with Fourie through their attorneys.

3. Analysis

3.1. The gist of the complaint is that the headline and the contents of the article portray Gallagher as dishonest, and imply that he fails to take financial responsibility when his business ventures fail.

3.2. A general complaint is made about the headline, though no specific reference is made to Clause 10.1 of the Press Code, which stipulates that the headline should not be misleading and must be “a reasonable reflection” of the contents of the article.

3.2.1. In this instance, the first part of the headline poses a question: “Cook or crook?” It does not make a definitive statement. The rest of the headline refers to various aspects of the report; the intention is to make a potential reader curious about the contents of the report, and does not cast any aspersions.

3.2.2. Accordingly, the headline is deemed to meet both requirements prescribed in Clause 10.1.

3.3. The main thrust of the complaint concerns the article, and the complainants’ contention that its contents are in breach of a number of clauses in Section 1 of the Press Code relating to the gathering and reporting of news.

3.3.1. In this regard, the fairness and accuracy of the article will be examined (in terms of Clauses 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.7), and it will be assessed whether or not the complainants were given reasonable time to respond to the article before publication (Clause 1.8).

3.3.2. This will be done with reference to a number of specific complaints.

4. Complaint 1: The complainants take issue with what they regard as Gallagher’s depiction as a businessman who engages in dishonest business schemes and refuses to take financial responsibility when these ventures fail.

4.1. Gallagher denies this and argues that he does not deliberately set out to defraud any parties, and contends that the risk of failure is inherent in the nature of entrepreneurship, especially in the hospitality industry.

4.2. While the respondents acknowledge this, they argue that Gallagher’s ventures are invariably followed by complaints from suppliers relating to non-payment.

4.3. It does not fall within the domain or expertise of the Press Council and its Ombud Panel to pronounce on the business acumen of the complainants.

4.4. Nonetheless, whatever the nature of the reasons which contribute to the failure of some of Gallagher’s business ventures, there does indeed appear to be a tendency that invites concern: a restaurant is opened, runs into financial difficulties, the proprietor relocates, and then re-emerges elsewhere to launch another enterprise.

4.5. Such a recurring sequence of events, over an extended period, is reasonable grounds to raise questions about some of Gallagher’s business ventures.

5. Complaint 2: The complainants take issue with certain references in the article to Gallagher which, according to them, imply that he is dishonest and untrustworthy.

5.1. The respondents submit that there were already a number of articles previously in the public domain which characterise him as such.

5.2. As the complainants correctly point out, this is not the case in all the reports cited by News 24. Nevertheless, there are indeed a number of aspects of some reports which raise questions about Gallagher’s past business ventures (for example, The Irish Times, 15 October 2010; City Press, 3 November 2014; 2OceansVibe, 2 March 2015; and The Irish Sun, 7 October 2021).

5.3. Moreover, there is sufficient grounds in News24’s own article to justify questions about Gallagher’s past business ventures.

6. Complaint 3: The complainants reject various claims in the article by Fourie as unfounded.

6.1. For example, they dispute that they owe Dry Ager any outstanding money for meat ordered for a social event at Ekland Game Park, and in fact maintain that Dry Ager owes them money in view of an overpayment (see points 2.4.1 and 2.4.5).

6.1.1. They also complain about the non-delivery of some meat, the under-delivery of some meat and the cost of the products (see point 2.4.3).

6.1.2. Over and above this, they assert that “the product forming the subject” of INV00054 (included in an annexure submitted by the respondents) is treated as a separate order whereas, in fact, it is part of the product in INVOOOO132 (included in an annexure submitted by the complainants).

6.1.3. In response, News24 maintains that the allegation in its article is accurate, and insists that Gallagher still owes Fourie R142 000.

6.1.4. These claims and counter-claims, based on information that cannot be verified independently, make it difficult to draw a clear conclusion about this aspect of the dispute. In any event, the domain of the Press Council is limited to matters specified in the Press Code, and does not extend to making determinations on financial disputes.

6.1.5. And, insofar as the Press Code is concerned, it is clear from the information published by News24 and from the information it provided in its response to the complaint that it did indeed attempt to verify the accuracy of its information (as required by Clause 1.7).

6.2. The dispute regarding payment relates, in part, to the complainant’s claim that the meat delivered by Dry Ager was of poor quality. As a result, the complainants submit, they decided to cancel delivery of the rest of the order.

6.2.1. As Fourie notes in the News24 article, he would have refunded the complainants for the meat deemed to be of inferior quality if it had been returned to him. However, this was never done, and the complainants offer no explanation for their failure to return the meat.

6.2.2. Be that as it may, this aspect of the dispute, too, falls outside the domain of the Press Council and matters related to the Press Code.

7. Complaint 4: Gallagher points out that he was acquitted of the theft of three paintings, and therefore regards News 24’s inclusion of this incident among “a flurry of indiscretions” as unfair and malicious.

7.1. In view of his acquittal, it is both inaccurate and inappropriate to characterise this incident as an indiscretion. Hence, the fairness of this reference is indeed open to question (in terms of Clause 1.1).

8. Complaint 5: The complainants object to a reference in the article to Gallagher’s “illicit operations” in Las Vegas, and regard this as a “scurrilous allegation” devoid of any merit.  They argue that a failure to pay suppliers after a business goes bankrupt does not mean the whole venture was unlawful.

8.1. News24 does not specifically respond to this complaint. Nevertheless, as its article suggests, the failure of the Las Vegas restaurant – allegedly leaving behind unpaid bills and outstanding wages – appears to follow the same pattern as that of Gallagher’s previous business ventures that were unsuccessful.

9. Complaint 6: The complainants deny any indebtedness to Charly’s Bakery. Furthermore, they reject any suggestion that Gallagher provided proof of payment under “pretences”, and claim that transactions cannot be reversed without the consent of the payment beneficiary.

9.1. According to News24, Biess informed the journalist that Investec allowed for payment reversal without the consent of the beneficiary during the early 2000s.

9.2. What the complainants do not dispute is that Biess requested cash payments from Gallagher. And, according to her, she chose this option after problems arose regarding payment from him.

10. Complaint 7: The complainants claim Gallagher was not given “reasonable time” to respond to enquiries, especially in view of the fact that he was travelling at the time from the Middle East to South Africa. In the circumstances, there is certainly some merit in this argument.

10.1. However, Gallagher merely replied that he would response to the enquiry in due course, and did not specifically make any request for more time.

10.2. Nor did he ask his legal representatives to request additional time on his behalf (even though he apparently communicated with them after he received the emailed questions from the journalist).

10.3. Furthermore, the complainants’ legal representatives only lodged a complaint with the Press Council on 15 December 2021 – nearly a month after the article was published.

10.4. Be that as it may, it is nevertheless still valid to question whether the 36 hours given to Gallagher to provide a response was reasonable, especially in view of the nature of some of the questions emailed to him.[2]

10.5. And, over and above this, the fact remains that Gallagher did inform News24 that he was travelling. This begs the question whether News24 should have used its initiative and extended the time afforded to him to respond.

10.6. News24 expresses concern that the journalist’s sources would have been “compromised or intimidated further” if Gallaher was initially given more time to respond. However, the severity of this threat is brought into question by the fact that News24 contends that it would have granted an extension if asked.

10.7. While there may not be any improper motives behind News24’s 36-hour deadline – as the complainants suggest – there are indeed valid concerns about the reasonableness of such a time frame.

10.8. After receiving Gallagher’s email in which he informed News24 that he was travelling, News 24 could either have asked him when he would be in a position to respond or used its own initiative and extended the time given to him to respond.

11. Complaint 8: The complainants also take issue with the fact that the questions were not confined to Gallagher’s current business dealings, and included questions about his past.

11.1. In addition, they contend that News24’s questions did not address some of the aspects included in the article.

11.2. News24 does not specifically address this complaint. However, it is reasonable to assume that some aspects covered in the questions were not included in the article precisely because of the lack of response from Gallagher prior to publication or because News24 was unable to obtain sufficient information to corroborate some aspects of its enquiries.

11.3. Whatever the reason, this complaint is academic in view of the fact that Gallagher did not respond to any of the questions submitted to him.

12. Complaint 9: The complainants submit that the article is defamatory, and in particular to Gallagher.

12.1. According to the respondents, a review of their sources and information already in the public domain shows that any defamation was a consequence of Gallagher’s own actions and not the result of its article.

12.2. Furthermore, News24 contends that the information in its story about Gallagher’s business dealings is “true”.

12.3. It is evident from the article that News24 did indeed make extensive efforts to establish the truthfulness of its information (as required by Clause 1.7).

12.4. News24 also argues that it is in the public interest to publish the information contained in the article. Based on the information at its disposal – its own sources and other local and international news reports – this is indeed the case: there is a recurring sequence of events in some of the businesses associated with Gallagher which raise valid concerns (see points 4.4 and 4.5).

13. Lastly, it would be remiss not to draw attention to the unreasonable delay by the complainants in replying to News24’s response to their complaint.

13.1. As pointed out in “Finding Complaint 8882 Sedzani Mudau vs City Press”, a key objective of the Press Council is to provide a mechanism through which complaints can be addressed expeditiously. Initiating a complaint, and then failing to pursue it timeously, obstructs this process.

13.2. This is obviously not in the interests of the complainant, but also places an unfair obligation on News24.

  1. Finding

The complaint that the article is in breach of clause 1.1 is upheld in relation to one specific issue, namely the gratuitous and unfair reference to Gallagher’s acquittal on a charge of the theft of three paintings (see point 7.1 in my “Analysis”).

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 1.2 is dismissed. There is no evidence of an intentional or negligent departure from the facts (see Footnote 1, which addresses one specific claim by the complainants).

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 1.3 is dismissed. The article sufficiently distinguishes between what may reasonably be regarded as true and what is alleged to be true or opinion.

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 1.4 is dismissed. There is no evidence whatsoever that News24 did not obtain the information it published in a legal, honest and fair manner.

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 1.7 is dismissed (see points 6.1.5 and 12.3 in my “Analysis”).

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 1.8 is upheld for the reasons identified in my “Analysis”, in particular points 10.4 to 10.8.

The complaint that the article is in breach of Clause 10.1 is dismissed for the reasons identified in my “Analysis” (see points 3.2 to 3.2.2).

News24 is required to apologise to the complainants for breaching Clauses 1.1 and 1.8 of the Press Code. The headline should contain the word “apology”, and 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; and
  • be approved by the Deputy Press Ombud.

In addition to the apology, News24 should allow the complainants a right of reply, to be published at the bottom of the original article. This should be confined to specific issues raised in the article and not exceed 300 words. If the publication objects to any content in the right of reply, it may refer the objection to the Deputy Press Ombud for a decision.

  1. 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

Tyrone August

Deputy Press Ombudsman

March 21, 2022


[1] This is not correct. The article contains an explicit reference to spoiled meat by Fourie in the following sentence: “Fourie told News24 if Gallagher had returned the spoiled meat, he would have refunded the chef in full.” Fourie is not disputing Gallagher’s claim about the quality of the meat; he is taking issue with the fact that it was not returned to him.

[2] News24 Editor-in-Chief Adriaan Basson erroneously states in an email quoted by the respondents that “36 hours are much more than the 24 hours required by the Ombud”. It should be noted that the Press Code does not identify any specific time period, but refers to “reasonable time to respond” (Clause 1.8).