Ombud rules article a lesson in sensitivity

This is the determination by the Independent Newspapers Appeal Panel of an appeal by Darron Araujo against the decision of the office of the ombudsman.

On July, 6, 2017, there appeared an article in the Constantiaberg Bulletin, “Inmates better protected,” in which the first paragraph reads:

“Bad food, not enough food, sharing a cell with a smoker, sharing a cell with gays, circumcision, lice, bed-bugs, plumbing and more, are all issues taken up by Independent Correctional Centre Visitors (ICCV), or prison visitors.”

The complaint was that the quoted paragraph was unacceptably and unfairly discriminatory against homosexual people. A week later, the newspaper apologised on the basis that the article could have been interpreted in the way in which Mr Araujo had done, especially because there were no inverted commas to make it plain that the material concerned had been taken from a document prepared by the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services. An appropriate apology was published.

The Ombud accepted the correctness of the position of the newspaper and did not uphold the complaint. Hence this appeal.

The members of the Appeal Panel have found this to be a rather difficult and complex case. The issue really was the extent to which a newspaper can publish, without sanction, a true statement that records complaints made arising out of discrimination of the worst kind. We found it unnecessary to determine this issue because, in any event, even if the publication could be said to be unfairly discriminatory, the apology sufficed.

But that is not the end of the matter as far as we are concerned. Unfair and highly prejudicial discrimination of vulnerable gay people in our society does abound. It is sad and unfortunate that this is so.

All of us in society have, in the view of this panel, a strong and undeniable moral duty to do everything within our power to reduce and eventually stop this kind of hugely prejudicial and sometimes life-threatening unfairness against gay people, who are essentially vulnerable. They need the protection of society as a whole and, in particular, strong and powerful actors in society, like the media.

We are not certain whether the code of conduct would oblige members of the Independent Media Group to do this, but the immorality of not doing so is clear.

We have therefore come to the conclusion that we cannot order the newspaper to do more than it has done.

However, at the very least, the article or that particular edition of the newspaper should, from a humanitarian, moral and constitutional perspective, have had something to say about the attitude towards gay people expressed by those who approached the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services. There ought, in our view, to have been, at a minimum, some regret expressed at this attitude.

A radical approach to change social views in this important area of human pain should also have been included.

In addition, some effort should have been made to ensure that the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services handles these complaints in a sensitive and caring way, designed to educate and develop an understanding rather than to give in to any unconstitutional and unfair prejudice.

We therefore recommend that reasonable steps be taken by the newspaper and any other member of the Independent Media Group who would like to assist, to give effect to these recommendations by appropriate publication of articles and opinions that make this clear.

We request that a copy of this determination be sent to the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services and to the Director General of the Department of Correctional Services. We request these entities to undertake appropriate action.

Finally, we order that this determination be published in full on page 1 or page 3 of the newspaper.