The affordable education loan option
Johannesburg - Sondag newspaper was sanctioned by Press Ombudsman Johan Retief on Monday about a news story it published about former television presenter Darren Scott.
The article was published on June 2 with the headline “Ex-Friend claiming R4.3 million loss”, and was largely based on comments by Anthony Duke.
Parts of the story related to a case pending in the High Court in Cape Town between Scott and Duke.
This meant the Press Ombudsman could not take into account complaints about these sections and was limited to aspects of the story that would not influence court proceedings.
Sondag reported, based on Duke's unverified account, that Scott fraudulently took sound equipment worth R120 000 and used drugs and alcohol.
Scott complained that the story was one-sided, defamatory and an attack on his dignity and reputation, and that it was not in the public interest.
The reporter apparently asked Scott for comment, but did not give adequate detail about Duke's allegations against him.
Being unaware of the extent of the allegations, Scott replied that he was busy with a radio interview and that the dispute between himself and Duke was a matter for the court to decide.
“He argues that, had he known the extent of the defamatory allegations, he would have responded other than merely saying that the matter was for the courts to decide,” Retief said.
He found that the story was in the public interest, as Scott was a public figure, but he had “little doubt” that the story was one-sided and an unfair attack on Scott's dignity and reputation.
The fact that the story was based on only one source was a concern, particularly because Scott and Duke were embroiled in a legal battle.
“The publication should therefore have been sensitive as to this source's possible motives, which should have made it doubly cautious to publish the serious allegations that it did.
“Taking the above into consideration, the mere use of the word 'alleged' is not nearly enough to soften the blows that the story unfairly dealt Scott,” Retief found.
Sondag was ordered to apologise to Scott and publish a text detailing Retief's criticism of the original story and the journalistic practices that led to the complaint.
Sondag was also given a “space fine”, meaning the newspaper had to publish the full Press Code on page six and not allow any other text on that page.
The Sondag has seven days to appeal the ruling to Judge Bernard Ngoepe, chairman of the SA Press Adjudication Panel.