Cape Town – Police Minister Bheki Cele has been vindicated by the findings of the Press Ombudsman against the Landbouweekblad newspaper, which had attributed a misleading headline to Cele that further enflamed the relationship between the police and the farming community.
On September 22 last year, the newspaper published an article with a headline “Cele: Boere moenie kla as hulle seerkry nie (Farmers must not complain when they get hurt).”
The article reported on the rural safety meeting hosted by the SAPS involving the farming community of Normandien, Free State, which included farmers, farm dwellers and workers.
At the time, the farming community was reeling from a recent brutal murder of a local couple, with the article claiming Cele insensitively said "Farmers must not complain when they get hurt” during his address.
The Press Ombudsman found the newspaper’s headline was misleading and breached several sections of the Press Code, the Police Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
Furthermore, the journalists who wrote the article were not present at the event in question and relied on ’’hearsay’’ from their sources.
’’More shocking is the failure by the newspaper to deny the Minister a right of reply,’’ the ministry said.
Landbouweekblad editor Chris Burgess had defended the decision, saying: “Taking into account the colourful statements the minister has uttered in the past, we felt it was not unreasonable to assume that he could have said something to the extent that we reported.”
The ministry said: ’’The Police Minister has always maintained that at no point did he make such a careless statement when trying to work with the community to find workable solutions to farm attacks.
’’He approached the office of the Press Ombud, convinced the journalists as well as the newspaper’s editorial team were reckless and irresponsible for publishing an article based on a fabrication.’
’’The Police Minister has taken exception to this editorial decision and believes such a lapse in judgment further fuelled tensions across South Africa, eroding the relationship between the police and the farming community.
“It is critical that the media recognises its power of destruction if they don’t do their work properly. This sort of reporting saw further violence by members of the farming community - who many of them read the Landbouweekblad newspaper - go on a rampage and storm a court building in Senekal and torch a police vehicle, following the gruesome killing of another farm manager combined with the anger and resentment they had towards the statement I never said.”
Cele said this ruling should serve as an important lesson.
“Not just for this newspaper, but for the profession which highlights that journalism cannot act beyond reproach and those who are supposed to be the voice of the people must conduct themselves with due diligence.
’’Good journalism cannot at any point allow ‘hearsay’ to replace facts. It is a dangerous practice that can cause irreparable damage,” Cele said.