“complained that the headline, the introduction and the next three paragraphs of the report presented the issue as fact. It was only in paragraph five of the report that the words ‘sources say’ appeared; and the ANC’s denials of what was reported as fact in the article first appeared in paragraph 11 and were in the second leg of the article as it was laid out. The ANC held that many readers would probably have stopped reading before they reached the ANC’s denials or comments.”
The Ombudsman’s ruling said that the three identified ANC sources in the story supported the confidential sources in some instances. However, it took issue with the City Press defence that the Press Code of Conduct entitled it to publish if it reasonably believed its version to be true. The ruling instead took a different view of Article 1.3 of the Code of Conduct which reads: ““Only what may reasonably be true, having regard to the sources of the news, may be presented as fact, and such facts shall be published fairly with due regard to context and importance. Where a report is not based on facts or is founded on opinions, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly”. In the Ombudsman’s interpretation of this, it required more than “reasonable” belief that a story is true to elevate it to being true. The ruling continued that there was “no evidence that one or the other of the conflicting versions of the story was the correct one”. It concluded that: “It is precisely in circumstances like these that all information should have been treated more cautiously and fairly than City Press did. The panel unanimously decided that the newspaper breached the Code by going too far in reporting disputed allegations as fact.” It said that the headline should have made clear that was being reported were disputed allegations, and the paper was ordered to publish a summary of the judgement.
Commenting soon after this decision, Duncan (in frayintermedia, 2008) stated: “… the most compelling argument about the Press Council not being captive of the industry is the latest judgment that’s come out involving the complaint laid by the very ANC who has raised this question about the impartiality of the Press Council.”