Tuesday, March 8, 2011

BCCSA lashes SABC in Sterenborg complaint

Friday, 04 March 2011 06:49
The Broadcast Complaints Commission (BCCSA) has found that the SABC was "unprofessional and actually reckless", as well as "duplicitous" and deceptive, in its broadcast of allegations by controversial businessman Robert Gumede about investigative journalist Sam Sole.

Robert Gumede alleged that Sam Sole was 'bribed' with a R900 air ticket by John Sterenborg, a former business partner of Gumede, to investigate him, writes Herman

The complaint with the BCCSA against the SABC was laid by Sterenborg, who argued that the SABC failed to verify allegations against him prior to broadcasting the interview under dispute; to obtain his input on allegations of bribery made against him; to make contact with other relevant parties (Sam Sole and the Mail & Guardian newspaper) or to give him the right of reply as requested by him.

His right of reply was further skewed by the SABC when it finally did offer his views in a subsequent broadcast.

Not checking allegations

In a scathing judgement, the BCCSA wrote: "We regard SABC [as] unprofessional and actually reckless in not checking RG's [Robert Gumede] allegations prior to airing the interview. We regard SABC [as] duplicitous in their communications with Sterenborg, taking an interview with Sterenborg promising to air it and then not doing so, giving false reasons."

The BCCSA also found that the SABC tried to "deceive Sterenborg" in their communication with him. The SABC had interviewed Sterenborg for his version of events as his right of reply but failed to air the interview on the due date, claiming technical problems. It later wrongly paraphrased his interview and the BCCSA found that "in any event there was no technical problem but that a management decision by SABC was behind not to air the interview or read out the interview."

The SABC argued that since it obtained and reported on a denial of the alleged bribery by M&G editor Nic Dawes, "there was deemed to be no further need to approach any other parties mentioned in the story regarding the allegation of bribery, as it had effectively been denied by Mr Dawes." It also argued that since it had a copy of the cheque in question "that in itself amounts to adequate confirmation that a payment was made".

"Broadcaster should have taken every care"

"Since the reputations of persons are at stake in this case, the broadcaster should have taken every care to ensure that facts were presented clearly and accurately," the BCCSA found in its ruling.

"Mr Sterenborg's objection to the way in which his rebuttal was broadcast is justified. People have the right to dignity, and once a reputation is sullied, it is extremely difficult to restore it. News broadcasters have a duty to ensure that facts are presented fairly and accurately, and that people's right to reply is fully respected."

The BCCSA found that the Broadcasting Code has not been complied with and reprimanded the broadcaster "for the ambiguity in its reporting of the reply".

Complaint also submitted by M&G

A complaint on the same news item was also submitted by the M&G but has not yet been ruled on. As a result, Dawes told Bizcommunity.com, "We have read with great interest the ruling of the BCCSA in relation to John Sterenborg 's complaint. We look forward to the commission's ruling in the Mail & Guardian's complaint about the same story."