/ 13 September 2011

Sowetan sex pics not in public interest, says ombud

The Sowetan newspaper’s publishing of prominent pictures of two officers having sex while on duty was not in the public interest, the press ombudsman ruled on Monday.

“It need not have reverted to publishing the pictures so prominently and explicitly to get its message across — there was no ‘public interest’ to do so,” Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief ruled.

He ordered the paper to apologise on both its front and second pages.

“A visual presentation of sexual conduct may not be published, unless a legitimate public interest dictates otherwise.”

The pictures, published on page one and two on August 15 show an officer from correctional services and a policewoman having sex in a hospital.

Retief said the story itself was in the public interest because the people involved were public servants being paid by taxpayers.

The paper breached a number of press codes by, among others, not being sensitive to its readers, the couple’s families, including their children and children in general.

Shortly after the articles were published, the paper’s public editor, Joe Latakgomo, wrote a column admitting it had received a number of complaints.

Retief said Latakgomo responded to readers saying the newspaper could have handled the story differently while still achieving the same effect.

“He says that the pictures could have been blurred, or cropped to minimise exposure of offensive positions. It was not necessary to publish the picture on the front page.

“He calls the front page picture vulgar, indecent and in poor taste and adds that it is pornographic.”

Retief noted that the newspaper apologised on its front page for the publication of the pictures — and yet it still continued to publish the pictures.

“One cannot take such an ‘apology’ seriously,” said Retief.

He ordered the following apology should be published on the front page, above the fold.

It should apologise to its readers, the couple’s family and children, and children in general.

The Sowetan was directed to print on its second page that six readers had complained to the press ombudsman, details of the story and the gist of the complaints.

The Sowetan‘s deputy news editor, Khangale Makhado told the Mail & Guardian: “The matter is with our lawyers as we speak and we will be responding in due course.”

After the article was published, the woman officer was dismissed, while the man was suspended and faces disciplinary proceedings. — Sapa