Isaac Phaahla vs. Daily Maverick


Tue, Mar 12, 2019

 

Particulars

Date of article: 12 February 2019

Headline: Parliament slams Kruger Park for defying directive not to sign agreement with neighbours

Author of article: Don Pinnock

Respondent: Pinnock

Complaint                                            

Mr Isaac Phaahla, General Manager: Marketing and Communications for Kruger National Park, complains the journalist:

·         has committed plagiarism (i.e. used information by another journalist without elaborating on this matter, as he was not present at a hearing); and

·         did not give the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR) or SANParks a right of reply, and falsely stated that SANParks did not respond to questions.

The text

The article said that Parliament had condemned Kruger National Park for signing an agreement with APNR which it had been expressly forbidden to sign by the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs.

Pinnock also reported: “Later, Kruger spokesperson Ike Phaahla told a journalist: ‘We cannot comment if we do not know why the committee is unhappy about us signing the agreement with the APNR’. Attempts to contact Kruger and SanParks for comment were unsuccessful at the time of publishing this article.”

The arguments

PINNOCK says:

·         he attended all the Parliamentary hearings on this subject;

·         it is extremely difficult to get Kruger Park or SANParks to respond to requests;

·         the story was mostly from a Parliamentary hearing where  both those organisations gave extensive input – he says he recorded, and reported, their inputs (so there was no need to confirm that they meant what they said); and

·         he collaborate extensively with Beeld reporter Elise Tempelhoff and share information on an almost daily basis. He adds: “The comment Isaac objects to was made to her on the phone and she immediately wrote it down and sent it to me on WhatsApp because she knew I was writing the story. She is happy to attest to this and I have attached her email to this effect”.

He argues that Phaahla’s ‘no comment’ comment to Tempelhoff showed that either he missed a whole day of Parliamentary input about how unhappy Parliament was, or he was suggesting that violating Parliament’s instructions was a non-issue.

He concludes: “First prize would have been if Isaac made the comment to me. But failing that, I do not think it unethical to use information from another journalist whose integrity I trust and who gave me her permission.”

PHAAHLA replies that:

·         he was at the hearing the whole day;

·         SANParks was always available on the phone or via email, and repeats that he did not receive any enquiries from Pinnock on any platform;

·         his conversation with Tempelhoff was not meant for publication, but as an explanation as to why SANParks had no comment to make. “The matter at that stage was being with by SANParks Board, DEA and parliament and we did not want to complicate matters by commenting simply because of the sensitivities around the matter and needed to let due process take place without any media side shows,” he explains.

He concludes: “It is unethical if it is used as a comment when it was an explanation as to why we could not comment on the parliamentary statement and it was not up to Elise Tempelhoff to give permission for the use of the so called (sic) quote.”   

Analysis

Plagiarism

If Pinnock had reported Phaahla’s response to Tempelhoff as if the general manager replied to him, I would have found for the complainant on this issue. However, he did not do so – he specifically reported that this information came from “a journalist”.

The fact that he did not mention Tempelhoff’s name is neither here nor there.

Other important considerations are that Tempelhoff gave him permission to use the quote, that the two of them worked closely together, and that he trusted her integrity (which, I believe from experience, he was justified to do).

If Phaahla did not intend his quote to be reported, it surely was not Pinnock’s fault for doing so.

Right of reply

Phaahla alleges that Pinnock did not attend the hearing, which is probably why he also complains that the journalist did not give him a right of reply. Oddly enough, the reporter in turn speculates that Phaahla could have missed the session.

I have no way of establishing who attended the particular day of the hearing and who did not. However, Pinnock’s quite extensive reporting on what Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs chairperson Philemon Mapulane had to say is enough to convince me it was reasonable to accept that the journalist did indeed attend the meeting.

It follows I also accept that Pinnock was under no obligation to give Phaahla a right of reply in the first place – it is not journalistic practice to ask for comment when reporting on a Parliamentary meeting such as this one, where both parties had a chance to say their say at the meeting.

Article’s content

As the complaint was not about the content of the article, I have ignored some “loose” remarks by both parties on this matter.

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