Elizabeth Pretorius vs. Rapport


Wed, Apr 14, 2021

Particulars 

Complaint number: 8829

Date of article: 21 February 2021

Headline: Rugby is saaier as TV sonder tieties (Rugby is more boring than TV without tits)

Author of article: Louis de Villiers

Respondent: Alet Wichmann, internal ombud (Rapport)

  1. Complaint                                            

1.1 Ms Elizabeth Pretorius complains that the use of the word “tieties” (“tits” – although this word does not fully convey the nuances it carries in Afrikaans) in the headline was disrespectful, insulting and archaic.

1.2 She bases her complaint on Section 5.1 of the Press Code. This section says, “The media shall avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth or other status, and not refer to such status in a prejudicial or pejorative context – and shall refer to the above only where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported, and if it is in the public interest.”

  1. The text

2.1 The article was published in an opinion supplement, Weekliks (Weekly).

2.2 In this piece, the journalist expresses his view that rugby has lost its attraction. He compares this to the TV series Game of Thrones, saying: “Rugby voel deesdae so effens ontgogelend soos die laaste twee seisoene van Game of Thrones, maar daar’s ongelukkig nie drake of tieties of towery nie. Nes Game of Thrones is rugby deesdae ’n TV-program voor dit enigiets anders is. Die begroting klop lank nie meer nie, ewe min as wat dit in ’n hipotetiese GOT-seisoen 25 sou. Drake en tieties is ook vervelig as hulle voorspelbaar raak.”

2.3 Loosely translated, it says that rugby has become a TV programme, just like Game of Thrones – but unfortunately, unlike that programme, there are no “tieties” in rugby. “Tieties” are also boring when they become predictable, he wrote.

  1. The arguments

3.1 Ms Elizabeth Pretorius complains that the use of the word “tieties” in the headline was disrespectful, insulting and archaic.

3.2 This is how she phrases her argument:

3.3 “We live in a world where we are told human rights, and the rights of women, and children, are to be respected. The header with its crude reference to female breasts as a source of excitement to men, is disrespectful, insulting and archaic. This against the backdrop of violence (physical and emotional) against women and children in South Africa and the levels of toxic masculinity in our society, of which this is a prime example, is unacceptable and should not go unchallenged. This lack of respect is at the heart of the levels of violence.

3.4 “Rugby is watched and followed by women and children – also in South Africa. Both groups should feel safe in this space and be able to read about it, without females being used as sex objects and there for the enjoyment of men, and young supporters being told by large media groups that this is the correct, acceptable approach.”

3.5 Alet Wichmann denies that the use of the word “tieties” was in breach of the Press Code. She says only an “extremely forced interpretation” of Section 5.1 of the Press Code may lead to such a conclusion.

3.6 She also refers to a letter Pretorius wrote to the editor, which was published the week following the publication of De Villiers’s article. This letter has led to a short debate, during which Rapport published another letter by the complainant.

3.7 Wichmann refers quite extensively to correspondence from Pretorius to the newspaper. (I am not entertaining those issues, as they fall outside the realm of the complaint.)

3.8 Regarding the allegation that the use of the word “tieties” objectifies women’s bodies as sex objects, she refers to how that word is used in normal parlance. In this regard, she quotes Prof Gerhard van Huyssteen of the Northwest University.

3.9 Following quite a lengthy explanation of the professor’s argument, Wichmann says the former concludes that Rapport has used that word totally within its widely accepted context.    

3.10 Wichmann concludes it is unreasonable to portray the use of the word “tieties” as a source of sexual stimulation for men.

3.11 She adds there is “anthropologically and evolutionary” no consensus that naked breasts are sexually stimulating for all men across all cultural borders.

3.12 The internal ombud also questions Pretorius’s use of the term “toxic masculinity”. She says this is an extremely controversial concept that is described by many critics as political and ideologically driven. “It is criticised, even from a feminist perspective”.

3.13 She concludes, “For Pretorius to formulate her complaint within this context, is quite problematic – since no publication is obligated to take any subjective world view into consideration.”

3.14 She adds that the Press Code is silent on issues of sexism, feminism and masochism.  

3.15 In conclusion, Wichmann argues that, even if the use of the word “tieties” was “disrespectful” towards women, in itself it does not constitute a breach of the Press Code.

3.16 “Also, it is in any case absurd to try to draw a comparison between violence against women and children and the use of the word ‘tieties’ within the context of an opinion article on how boring rugby has become.”

3.17 In her reply to the above, Pretorius inter alia says:

  • Van Huyssteen’s research is irrelevant and only points to how big the problem of stereotyping and sexism really is – and, in fact, reinforces the statement that the headline objectified women;
  • The headline does not have any other interpretation as sexual excitement, and stereotyped the role of women and reduced women’s breasts to “exciting TV”;
  • To use the TV programme Game of Thrones in this regard is a “cheap shot” in trying to rationalise the headline – in fact, this programme is widely criticised for its sexual content and even sexual violence, and has nothing to do with rugby; and
  • Likewise, rugby has also nothing to do with “tieties” (and sex in Game of Thrones).

3.18 Pretorius quotes extensively from the writings of feminists as well as from Dr Denise Buiten, Senior Lecturer & Discipline Coordinator: Social Justice University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney).

3.19 Perhaps this can aptly be summarised with the following quote from Buiten in a letter to Pretorius: “I don’t know about South Africa but internationally there is plenty of research that shows stereotypes of both women and men affect violence of all forms and plenty of research that shows the media plays a role in gender-based violence. It is not a view of some feminists – it is well-established by research.” 

3.20 She says the author might not have meant to offend people – but that is it so common to objectify women’s bodies that such remarks often go unnoticed. She asks if the same author would also have used such derogatory language about the male anatomy. “Women are reduced to their bodies,” she wrote.

3.21 Ultimately, she also disagrees with Wichmann’s argument about toxic masculinity.

3.22 In conclusion, Pretorius says that stereotyping, objectifying and the lack of respect, as represented in Rapport’s headline, are unacceptable in any modern society. It leads to the marginalisation of and discrimination and violence against women in extreme cases – of which there are many in South Africa. “In this case, women (their bodies, breasts and dignity) were the target of a national Sunday newspaper, with many readers.”

3.23 Note: Pretorius elaborates on her arguments so extensively that eventually it suffices, for the purpose of this adjudication, to stick to a summary of her arguments. Readers who are interested in her submissions can obtain them by writing to Ms Khanyi Mndaweni at Khanym@ombudsman.org.za.

  1. Analysis

4.1 Section 5.1 of the Press Code is relevant. Let me repeat what this section says: “The media shall avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s gender … and not refer to such status in a prejudicial or pejorative context – and shall refer to the above only where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported, and if it is in the public interest.”

4.2 With all due respect, Rapport misses the point by using Van Huyssteen’s argument, with the conclusion that the newspaper has used the word “tieties” totally within its widely accepted context.

4.3 That may be true, but it also is irrelevant. The problem does not lie in the use of the word “tieties” – rather, it is about the context in which it was used (read: boring vs. exciting).

4.4 If words have meanings, and they do, the headline (Rugby is more boring than TV without tits) suggests that TV is boring if it does not show women’s breasts – at the very least, it insinuates that TV showing women’s breasts are more exciting than TV without showing breasts.

4.5 The message is clear: women’s breasts are “exciting”. It is difficult to interpret this in a non-sexual way.

4.6 This reduced women’s value as human beings to their breasts, in which process they were denigrated as they were objectified and limited to sex objects.

4.7 Also, I do not see, in any way:

  • that the reference to “tieties” was “strictly relevant to the subject matter” (read: rugby); and
  • any “public interest” in this comparison.

4.8 Having said that, I do not believe that the reference to “tieties” in the headline was meant to be denigratory, or that it was likely to kindle or encourage violence against women.

4.9 In the end, though, I am of the view that the media should be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

  1. Finding

The headline was in breach of Section 5.1 of the Press Code which reads, “The media shall avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s gender … and not refer to such status in a prejudicial or pejorative context – and shall refer to the above only where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported, and if it is in the public interest.”

  1. Seriousness of breaches                                              

6.1 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).                                             

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

  1. Sanction

7.1 Rapport is directed to apologise for the headline, stating that it reduced women’s value as human beings to their breasts, in which process they were denigrated as they were objectified and limited to sex objects.

7.2 The newspaper is directed to publish the apology prominently on all platforms where the headline was published, with a headline containing the words “apology” or “apologises”, and  the word “tieties”.

7.3 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.
  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.

Johan Retief

Acting Press Ombud