Ombudsman rules on misleading headline

THE Deputy Press Ombudsman ordered that Sowetan publish a summary of its findings in the complaint brought by the Democratic Alliance ("DA") against Sowetan.

The DA complained about the article published on 28 July this year headlined "DA man up for shooting at two kids".

The article was based on an arbitration award ("the award") by Adv Pierre van Tonder, a commissioner in the South African Local Government Bargaining Council.

Adv Van Tonder adjudicated in the matter of an appeal by a metro police officer against his alleged unfair dismissal by the City of Cape Town.

The article alleged that in 2008, DA MP Pieter van Dalen, together with two metro police officers, shot rubber bullets at two black children who were playing soccer late at night.

The DA's complaint cantered around certain sentences and the headline of the article, which the DA claimed were inaccurate. The Ombudsman findings in this regard were as follows:

l that the word "judgment", which Sowetan had used to describe the award, even though technically incorrect, could indeed be used in that way;

  • Sowetan had accurately reflected Van Tonder's findings that Van Dalen and the two metro officers had started firing rubber bullets at the boys, that the boys had fled and that the group had laughed;
  • In regard to the claim that Van Tonder had said that it would be in the public interest for Van Dalen to be disciplined, Sowetan had drawn reasonable conclusions but had breached the Press Code in attributing those conclusions to Van Tonder.

Sowetan had offered to publish a correction, which the Deputy Press Ombudsman redrafted;

  • Based on the evidence as well as the fact that Khayelitsha is a predominantly black area, the description by Sowetan of the boys who were shot at as "black" can be accepted as reasonable; and
  • the headline did not reasonably reflect the contents of the article: nobody was holding Van Dalen responsible for the incident, so Sowetan could not claim that he was "up for" shooting at two kids. The headline therefore breached the Press Code.

Sowetan was directed to publish this summary of the finding as well as the correction which appears alongside, and was reprimanded for the misleading headline.

  • Visit (rulings, 2010) for the full finding.


"On 28 July 2010, Sowetan published an article in which it was alleged that Pieter van Dalen had been accused of shooting at two kids with rubber bullets.

The story said that in a judgment handed down by Advocate Pierre van Tonder, a commissioner in the South African Government Bargaining Council, it was found that it would be in the public interest for Van Dalen to be disciplined in relation to this allegation.

It has now come to the attention of Sowetan that no such a finding was made as the municipality had no jurisdiction to discipline him - it was the responsibility of the city's municipal council to take action against him."

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