Landbouweekblad – scathing ruling by Ombudsman

Police minister calls for responsible news reporting following scathing ruling by press ombudsman

Police minister calls for responsible news reporting following scathing ruling by press ombudsman photo credit:

The Police Minister, General Bheki Cele feels vindicated by the findings of the Press Ombudsman against the Landbouweekblad newspaper.
On the 22nd of September 2020, the Afrikaans newspaper published an article with a headline “Cele: Boere moenie kla as hulle seerkry nie” translated in English as “Farmers must not complain when they get hurt.”

Lirandzu Themba, Police Ministry spokesperson, says the article reported on the rural safety meeting hosted by the SAPS in September 2020, involving the farming community of Normandien, which included farmers, farm dwellers and workers.

“The article claimed that the Police Minister said ‘Farmers must not complain when they get hurt’ during his address to the farming community that was reeling from a recent brutal murder of local couple.

‘The Police Minister has always maintained that at no point did he make such a careless statement when trying to work with the community to find workable solutions to farm attacks. He approached the office of the Press Ombuds convinced the journalists as well as the newspapers editorial team, were reckless and irresponsible for publishing an article based on a fabrication.”

Themba says, furthermore, the journalists who wrote the article were not present at the event in question and relied on ‘hear say’ from their sources.

“More shocking is the failure by the newspaper to deny the Minister a right of reply. The Landbouweekblad Editor Chris Burgess, defended the decision saying ‘Taking into account the colourful statements the minister has uttered in the past, we felt it was not unreasonable to assume that he could have said something to the extent that we reported.”

The Press Ombudsman found the newspapers headline was misleading and breached several sections of the Press Code.

“The Police Minister has taken exception to this editorial decision and believes such a lapse in judgment further fuelled tensions across South Africa, eroding the relationship between the police and the farming community.

“It is critical that the media recognises its power of destruction if they don’t do their work properly. This sort of reporting saw further violence by members of the farming community – who many of them read the Landbouweekblad newspaper – go on a rampage and storm a court building in Senekal and torch a police vehicle, following the gruesome killing of another farm manager combined with the anger and resentment they had towards the statement I never said.”

Cele says this ruling should serve as an important lesson.

“Not just for this newspaper, but for the profession which highlights that journalism cannot act beyond reproach and those who are supposed to be the voice of the people must conduct themselves with due diligence. Good journalism cannot at any point allow ‘hear say’ to replace facts.” It is a dangerous practice that can cause irreparable damage.” – Cele concluded.

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