Be careful what you Tweet for
Journalists often have a disclaimer on their Twitter profiles stating that their opinions are “their own” and that retweets are not “endorsements”. It must be emphasised that disclaimers are not worth the paper they are written on (or in Twitter lingo: not worth the character spaces they take up).
Let’s be clear: If you defame someone with a tweet, you may be held liable. If you retweet defamatory content, you may be held liable. If you harm the reputation of your employer, your “personal own opinion” (sic) will get you fired, even if it is an honestly held, valid opinion. If you are strongly associated with your media house, you should be extra diligent.
In a recent ruling by the Press Ombud, this thorny issue was fleshed out for the first time. The Office of the Presidency complained about an article in the Mail&Guardian: ‘Zuma pals score first nuke deal – When debate still rages about the nuclear build programme, a tender has already been awarded to a close family friend of the president’.
Presidential spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga had success in his complaint that President Zuma’s reputation was unfairly tarnished through the use of his name and picture of the front page headline and picture (more on this issue in a next newsletter), but a fascinating aspect of the complaint was the inclusion of the tweet of then Editor Verashni Pillay in the complaint.
In a bid to entice the public in a 140 character tweet to read her publication’s scoop, Pillay tweeted: ‘You won’t believe what Zuma and his pals are up to next.’
Pillay conceded that the article made ‘no suggestion in the article that the President was linked to the contract in question or that the contract was awarded because of the link between Mr Vivian Reddy and the President’.
In her defence, she also said that tweets by editors are not regulated by the Press Ombud’s office.
Press Ombud Johan Retief says in his ruling that the presence of a Twitter component in a complaint is breaking some new ground: ‘Personal tweets by journalists clearly fall outside the jurisdiction of this office, as we have nothing to do with their personal activities or behaviour. Therefore, if a reader complains about a journalist’s tweet, I consider that to be an internal matter and refer it to the editor.’
However, Retief was willing to accept a ‘promotional tweet’ for a story as an official tweet. ‘Indeed, there is no substantial difference between such a promotional tweet and a street poster – both are intended to entice the public to read the relevant text. Therefore, if posters are covered by the Code (as they are) then – by necessity – official, promotional tweets are also included.’
Pillay’s saving grace was the fact that the official Mail&Guardian Twitter account also tweeted a promotional tweet, leading Retief to accept that Pillay’s ‘rather unfortunate’ tweet was one in her personal capacity ‘as it would make little sense to have two promotional tweets’.
He therefore ruled that Pillay’s tweet is not within his office’s jurisdiction.
The precedent set by this ruling does, however, send a clear warning to journalists to be careful.
Herman Scholtz (BCom LLM, BPhil Journalism) is legal advisor to the National Press Club and national news editor of Rapport. Legal questions of a journalistic nature may be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time names Trump its 2016 ‘Person of the Year’
Time magazine has named Donald Trump its “Person of the Year” for 2016 for his stunning upset election victory that rewrote the rules of politics, delivering him to the helm of a divided America.
The president-elect dialed into NBC television’s Today show, welcoming the accolade as a “very, very great honor,” denying he was responsible for divisions and praising outgoing Democratic President Barack Obama.
The real estate tycoon, who has never previously held elected office and shocked the political establishment by defeating his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, is featured on Time‘s cover described as “Donald Trump: President of the Divided States of America.”
The magazine said its person of the year, a tradition that began in 1927, “had the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year.”
“So which is it this year: better or worse?” editor-in-chief Nancy Gibbs wrote. “The challenge for Donald Trump is how profoundly the country disagrees about the answer.”
She said 2016 had been the year of his rise and 2017 would be the year of his rule, after he is sworn into office on January 20.
“Like all newly elected leaders, he has a chance to fulfil promises and defy expectations,” said Gibbs.
Trump won the title, she added, for “reminding America that demagoguery feeds on despair and that truth is only as powerful as the trust in those who speak it, for empowering a hidden electorate by mainstreaming its furies and live-streaming its fears, and for framing tomorrow’s political culture by demolishing yesterday’s.”
In the past Time has showed its editorial teeth by naming sinister figures — Adolf Hitler in 1938 and Joseph Stalin both in 1939 and 1942.
The president-elect told NBC’s Today show that he thought the sub-heading on the front cover about a divided America was “snarky” and denied that it was his fault.
“I’m not president yet so I didn’t do anything to divide,” he said, despite having inflamed the country by campaign rhetoric disparaging women, illegal immigrants and Muslims among others.
For years he criticized Obama and was instrumental in the so-called “birther” movement that questioned whether the first black president was born in the United States.
“I will say this: I’ve now gotten to know President Obama, I really like him,” Trump told NBC on Wednesday. “I can’t speak for him, but we have a really good chemistry together. We talked,” he said.
“He loves the country, he wants to do right by the country and for the country and I will tell you, we obviously very much disagree on certain policies and certain things, but I really like him,” he added.
The billionaire even said that he discussed some of his possible appointments with the outgoing Democratic president.
“I take his recommendations very seriously and there are some people that I will be appointing and in one case have appointed where he thought very highly of that person,” Trump said.
Clinton, the former secretary of state who became the closest in history to becoming America’s first female commander in chief, was named the runner-up, with computer hackers in third place.
The former first lady won the popular vote with around 2.7 million more votes than Trump, but the Republican won the crucial Electoral College by 306 to 232.
Trump campaigned hard on a promise of bringing back jobs with the old manufacturing heartland hard hit by companies fleeing overseas and taking jobs to cheaper labor markets in China or Mexico.
Trump told Time in an interview that he asked Apple CEO Tim Cook to build in the United States “a great plant, your biggest and your best, even if it’s only a foot by a foot bigger than some place in China.”
He also addressed representing working class Americans despite his lavish wealth, living in a luxurious Manhattan penthouse.
“I’m sitting in an apartment the likes of which nobody’s ever seen. And yet I represent the workers of the world. And they love me and I love them,” he told the magazine.
“I think people aspire to do things. And they aspire to watch people. I don’t think they want to see the president carrying his luggage out of Air Force One. And that’s pretty much the way it is,” he said.
Nominate your newsmaker for 2016
It’s that time of the year again!
Please send us your nomination for the press club’s Newsmaker of the Year for 2016, with a short motivation, by 20 January 2017. All nominations will be considered by the press club exco and an announcement made before the end of January.
We look forward to hearing from you on email@example.com.
ACP press clubs come together to launch milestone federation
Leaders of press clubs and press centres from across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific gathered in Kigali, Rwanda recently during a pioneering congress, which culminated in the adoption of a charter officially founding the ACP Press Clubs Federation (ACP-PCF).
The National Press Club was represented by committee member Jos Charle, who was also elected to the interim executive board of the ACP-PCF.
The ACP-PCF aims to establish a network of national press clubs or press centres, working in collaboration to strengthen the viability and professionalism of media bodies in ACP regions, and to foster intra-ACP communication, cooperation, and networking with similar international bodies around the world.
The Head of the Rwanda Governance Board, Prof Anastase Shyaka stressed the “shared responsibility for all ACP member states to strengthen the media sector in order to enhance its contribution towards the achievement of our intended developmental goals.”
“The media remains unarguably a vital driver of sustainable development and a major pillar of democracy and good governance… On the other hand, the weakness of media in Africa and in other developing countries is neither a legacy nor a fatality. It is time for the media in the ACP regions to wake up and position itself in the global landscape to accurately tell our own story.”
It is expected that the network will also be a key platform through which the ACP Group, as an organisation, engages with the media in member countries, in facilitating public awareness on ACP and ACP-EU development issues.
At the congress, more than 40 participants, made up largely of presidents and directors of national press clubs or press associations in all six regions of the ACP Group, held lively discussions about their experiences on the ground, including challenges, opportunities and best practices.
They concluded by adopted a founding charter which outlines the general aims, methods of working, and basic structures of the federation.
An interim executive board was elected to push the initiative forward. It will put together proposals that would be submitted to the next general assembly, anticipated to take place in 2018.
Huffington Post to empower communities
The 17th edition of the Huffington Post has been launched in South Africa.
Chief Executive Officer of The Huffington Post, Jared Grusd said that the “timing of this launch is great because the world needs us more than ever. We can empower your communities to make more informed decisions about their world.
“The media landscape in the country is changing rapidly. There has never been a more important time for South African citizens to contribute through digital and by being local first. In this regard, we are providing blogging platforms in all the official languages of the country.”
He said that language is not only important as it allows people to express themselves comfortably, but also because the world needs a high quality of journalism. “It is about giving perspective to what is happening around us and the ability to make sense of the world that is needed. Marrying worldwide journalism with products delivers what makes people want to engage with the news. It is not the access to information that is important as much as the ability to evaluate it.” In the future, he says, this will be enhanced through storytelling using innovative technology and augmented story telling. “Through video we can provide perspective on the migrant issue, by showing in real time what happens when migrants land in Greece on the beach. This allows the reader to be immersed in the story.”
Commenting on the partnership between the Huffington Post and Media24, Chief Executive Officer of Media24, Esmare Weideman called the Huffington Post “one of the sexiest, salient and most successful digital brands in the world today”.
The brand, she adds, is one that fits in perfectly with Media24’s current journey from print to digital. “Partnering with the Post shows how eager we are to change.”
Grusd said that the partnership with Media24 will extend beyond South Africa into the continent.