Stats SA vs The Star
Wed, Feb 29, 2012
Settlement between The Star and Stats SA
Statistics South Africa and The Star have reached a settlement resolving the complaint lodged by Stats SA with the Press Ombudsman in relation to a report published on 8 January 2008 in The Star, The Mercury and The Pretoria News, appearing in some issues under the headline “R600m State Survey Bungle – Stats Body says Error–Ridden Data cannot be used to set future policy”. Various editorials based on that article appeared in some Independent Newspapers publications.
The headline of the articles claimed that the Statistics Council – the statutory body which has an advisory and oversight role in respect of statistics produced by Stats SA – had on 24 October 2007 made statements in its report on the 2007 Community Survey to the effect that the survey data were "error-ridden" and could not be used to set future government policy. Headlines in certain issues claimed that this amounted to a “R600 m State Survey Bungle”.
Stats SA complained to the Press Ombudsman that this content contravened various provisions of the Press Code, inter alia because in its view the articles, headlines and editorials included inaccuracies and distortions. The Star argued that it had a right to publish the concerns that the Statistics Council had expressed, as these emanated from an official document, and dealt with matters of public interest.
The Star acknowledges, however, that the Statistics Council did not make the statements attributed to it in the headlines and the first paragraph of the article. The Star afforded Stats SA a right of reply to the article (which was published the following day).
Stats SA accepts the right of The Star to publish the cautionary remarks made by the Statistics Council, but it pointed out in its reply that these remarks were cautionary notes typical of international best practice in relation to the normal limitations associated with producing statistical data. It further pointed out that there was no justification for the newspapers (both in the headlines and the first paragraph of the articles) to portray the cautionary remarks of the Statistics Council as if it had stated or implied that the Community Survey data were “error-ridden”, “unreliable” and could not “be used to set future policy”.
The inaccurate headlines to the story caused Stats SA and the Stats Council inconvenience and embarrassment. This is regretted by The Star.
Note: “The Star” will be replaced by “The Pretoria News” and “The Mercury” in those publications.