Huffington Post SA in – another – fake news scandal

2 weeks ago written by

South Africa’s version of the Huffington Post – run by News24 – stumbles from one disaster to the next.

This time around the Press Ombudsman found that Huffington Post South Africa should apologise to AfriForum in public after publishing fake news, which comes down to a serious contravention of the press code of ethics and conduct in South Africa.

It follows the publication of an article by Pieter du Toit, editor of Huffington Post South Africa on 30 July this year entitled Morake: A victim of South Africa’s “Bell Pottinger” – Solidarity and AfriForum thrive on ethnic mobilisation and false narratives. Now they have a popular radio presenter in their sights on Huffington Post South Africa.

Earlier this year (in April) the Press Ombudsman found the so-called news website guilty of “malicious” and “discriminatory” hate speech after a blog was published by a fake author called ‘Could it be time to deny white men the franchise?’.  At the time former HuffPost SA editor-in-chief Verashni Pillay resigned but she later won her appeal against the hate speech ruling when the Appeals Panel of the Press Council set aside the ruling. Judge Bernard Ngoepe and his panel stated that “It could well be that the piece irritated or annoyed some people; but to classify it as a hate speech would be too huge a jump.”

This time around, the new editor – Du Toit – claimed in an article that:

  • AfriForum “employed subtle and polished, but racially divisive tactics to get their message across”;
  • AfriForum spear-headed a boycott action against the restaurant group Spur “after a white man was banned from returning to the restaurant when he had been filmed abusing a black woman”; and
  • AfriForum spear-headed a campaign against the new Director of the Afrikaanse Taal- en Kultuurvereniging (ATKV) “because she wanted to build bridges between Afrikaans and other languages”.

Du Toit also claimed that “… AfriForum, who have attacked and vilified [Jakaranda FM aanbieder, Tumi] Morake for her views, can quite easily be compared to Bell Pottinger, the disgraced British public relations firm. Like the Brits from London, the Afrikaner activists from Pretoria employ subtle and polished, but equally racially divisive tactics to get their message across” and that “Solidarity and AfriForum thrive on ethnic mobilisation through fear and creating a victim complex. And now Morake is the target because she was ‘racist’. Another opportunity to scare whites into joining the two sister organisations by creating false narratives.”

The Press Ombudsman found that Du Toit indeed had the right to express his opinions, but that there were no grounds to attribute to AfriForum certain allegations as fact. Huffington Post South Africa must publish an apology to AfriForum on their website. The heading must contain the words “apology” or “apologies” and “AfriForum”. AfriForum should also be given the right to react to Huffington Post South Africa’s allegations.

Ernst Roets, Deputy CEO of AfriForum, says that the promotion of freedom of speech and press freedom remains a core priority for AfriForum.

“It seems, however, that Du Toit has exchanged his role as journalist for the role of an Anti-AfriForum activist. Du Toit has the right to his own opinions, but to publish fake news to further his own agenda amounts to a contravention of the press code and something that should be addressed with the necessary concern. We therefore see the Ombudsman’s ruling as a victory for press freedom.”

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