The Press Ombudsman has ruled in favour of Police Minister Bheki Cele after he lodged a complaint against Landbouweekblad newspaper.
The ombudsman found that the Afrikaans newspaper breached several sections of the Press Code in an article with a headline that misquoted the minister, saying “Farmers must not complain when they get hurt” in September last year.
The council found the headline was misleading having been translated from Afrikaans.
In a statement released by police ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba, Cele welcomed the ombudsman’s findings, saying he felt vindicated and the ruling should serve as an important lesson.
“It is critical that the media recognises its power of destruction if they don’t do their work properly,” Cele said.
“This sort of reporting saw further violence by members of the farming community – many of whom read the Landbouweekblad newspaper – go on the rampage, storm a court building in Senekal and torch a police vehicle following the gruesome killing of a farm manager, combined with the anger and resentment they had towards the statement I never made.
“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 hearsay to replace facts. It is a dangerous practice that can cause irreparable damage.”
Normandien farm murder
The Landbouweekblad article reported on a rural safety meeting hosted by the SAPS in September 2020 with the farming community of Normandien after couple Glen and Vida Rafferty were murdered.
The article claimed the Police Minister said “Farmers must not complain when they get hurt” during his address to the farming community still in shock at the brutal murder of a local couple.
Cele denied the article’s headline, saying it would be irresponsible to say farmers should not complain if they get hurt.
“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,” the police ministry said.
“He approached the office of the Press Ombuds convinced the journalists as well as the newspaper’s editorial team, were reckless and irresponsible for publishing an article based on a fabrication.
“Furthermore, the journalists who wrote the article were not present at the event in question and relied on hearsay for their sources. More shocking is the failure by the newspaper to deny the minister the right of reply.
“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 ministry said.