Sunday, June 16, 2024

Dr. Gonzales and 3 others vs The Sunday Standard Newspaper

On the 18th of December 2014, The Committee, through its Secretariat, received a complaint from a concerned group of Doctors in relation to an article which had been previously published in an edition of the Sunday Standard Newspaper. Central to the Complaint is that the article (Titled BOKAMOSO Hospital Fleecing Patients-Whistleblower) published by the Sunday Standard Newspaper on the 8th of December 2014, under the hand, nay pen of Khonani Ontebetse, a Journalist employed by the Newspaper is unethical, unprofessional and one that brings the Journalistic profession into disrepute. On a further consideration of the complaint lodged by the complainants it in brief posits that the article was an unfair one. An unfair one because it was according to them published without contacting all the parties concerned in the matter, it contained false allegations and incorrect.
The arguments in the matter
The Complainants’ Case
The salient points of the complainants’ case are that, the complainants are anaesthesiologists practicing at Bokamoso Private Hospital, that the writings cited by the journalist, generated by a certain Dr Knab are not only incorrect but are an intentional distortion, manipulation and falsification of the facts in order to discredit them (the Complainants). The complainants’ case which is also captured in a letter to the Editor of the Sunday Standard is also that the Newspaper failed to adhere to the basic conduct of good practice by publishing an unverified story. They state that they were never contacted by the Journalist prior┬á to the publication of the story, further that one of them, Dr Gonzales, had set up a meeting with the Journalist over the matter, which meeting the Journalist failed to attend. They contend that the Sunday Standard article was published in breach of the General Standards and the Accuracy Clauses of the Botswana Media Code of Ethics.
The Respondent’s Case
The Respondent, The Sunday Standard Newspaper, had delayed in submitting its Statement of Defence in relation to the above matter. In interests of fairness and the duty to hear the other side, the Committee decided to condone the delay. The Respondent’s case is that before publishing the story/article it sought comment from the Hospital Chief Executive Officer a certain Mr Reuben Naidoo. According to respondent, this was the most relevant officer of the hospital with capacity to speak for and on behalf of the hospital and its members. It is further the Respondent’s case that since there is no Public Relations Office at the Hospital it was prudent for them to have approached and solicited comment from the Hospital Chief Executive Officer.

The respondent further states that the article published did not mention the complainants by name, but rather described them as Bokamoso Hospital Doctors. In its position it states that maybe if the complainants had been individually mentioned they would have been under a debatable to duty to consult them; however they state that this would still be remiss as they would still have to defer to a designated spokesperson for the organization. In brief their case is that the story is fair and balanced and not in breach of the Code of Ethics and the Clauses referred to above.
Adjudication and findings
The Committee considered the factual averments of the parties, and having deliberated extensively on same the Committee found that the publication was fair and in the public interest. It was further found that the publication did not offend any of the provision of the Botswana Media Code of Ethics, but rather acted in accordance with them.
Clause 2 of the General Standards of the Botswana Media Code of Ethics demands that Media Practitioners must maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. It further commands that they should carry out their functions which include informing, educating and entertaining the public professionally and responsibly.

In the current matter, while it was improper for the journalist to decline a meeting he had agreed to, the respondent was not obliged to conduct individual interviews with the complainants. What is professional is to seek the input of the relevant authority who in this matter is the Hospital CEO. The respondent has discharged its duty to inform the public in a professional and responsible manner.

Clause 2 of the Accuracy Clause of the Botswana Media Code of Ethics mandates media practitioners to check their facts properly, and to take proper care that inaccurate material does not go to print. Further, that steps ought to have been taken by editors before any matter is published to ascertain its accuracy. It further places an obligation on the editors to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken before publishing a story on alleged wrongdoing and that such publication if ultimately done to include a response from the individual or organization.
In the instant case there is evidence on the facts that the accuracy of the story was checked before publication. There is also evidence that a response from the organization was sought before publication. This complaint is therefore dismissed.

The Complainants are advised of their right to appeal the decision of this Committee within to the Medial Appeals Committee within fourteen (14) days of receipt of this decision.
Kabo G Motswagole
Media Complaints Committee
Press Council of Botswana


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