Cape Town - The South African Press Ombudsman ruled on
Friday 8 May that the Sunday Times must apologise to former South African
cricket captain Graeme Smith, following its headline story in the weekend
newspaper on 8 March 2015.
The Sunday Times had stated as fact in its
headlines, in the Twitter feed and in its column ‘Mampara of the Week’
that Smith had advised his wife via SMS that he was getting a divorce, that he
lied to her and that he had a ‘secret divorce plan’.
Smith, via his sports lawyer David Becker,
had filed a complaint with the Press Ombudsman, Johan Retief.
Finding that the Sunday Times had breached
the Press Code on four counts, the Press Ombudsman has directed the Sunday
Times to “apologise to Smith for stating the allegations in question (that he
advised Morgan Deane via SMS that he was getting a divorce, that he lied to
her, and that he had a secret divorce plan) as fact in the headlines, in the
Twitter feed and in Mampara of the Week, and for suggesting, without
supporting evidence, some wrong-doing on Smith’s part by the wording of its
promotional posters – thereby “unnecessarily harming his dignity and
In a significant ruling, the Press
Ombudsman also directed the Sunday Times to retract the statements in question
and publish an apology on the front page and on its website, stating that the
newspaper ‘went too far’.
The Press Ombudsman also stated that he
“was uncomfortable with the publication of the allegations as such – given the
fact that his comment was not published, and the possibility that the sources
might indeed have been biased.”
Commenting on the posters containing the
headline “Graeme Smith’s divorce shame”, the Press Ombudsman found that “The
word ‘shame’ suggests some wrong-doing on Smith’s part – which is (again)
merely an allegation in the story and not necessarily a fact”.
Smith welcomed the ruling. “I am obviously
very pleased that the Press Ombudsman has found in my favour and I have been
impressed with the professionalism and thoroughness with which the complaint
has been handled. I have always had a good relationship with the media.
However, in this case the Sunday Times simply went too far and this was
tremendously unfair, both to me and my family,” he said.
Commenting on the ruling, Becker said,
“The office of the Press Ombudsman was established by the Press Council exactly
for the purpose of dealing with this kind of unfair reporting. Their
independent adjudication process is an increasingly valuable process designed
to hold the media to a higher standard of journalism.”
A full copy of the Press Ombudsman’s
findings will be published on www.presscouncil.org.za.
Consistent with his approach to date on
this matter, Smith will make no further comment at this time.