Appeal Decision: Mrs Hanna Pretorius vs News24

Mon, Mar 8, 2021

In the matter of

MRS HANNA PRETORIUS                                                                               APPLICANT


NEWS 24                                                                                                         RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 8388/10/2020


  1. Mrs Hanna Pretorius (“applicant”) lodged a complaint against News24 (“respondent”) in respect of respondent’s video headlined “Exodus – uncovering a cult in KwaZulu-Natal” and also in respect of an article that followed with the Headline “Exodus: Uncovering sexual crimes and missing millions at a KZN ‘Cult’”. The essence of the two publications, which the applicant did not like, was that there was some wrong doing at the KwaSizabantu Mission. The allegations specifically alleged some abuse, including sexual abuse on applicant’s daughter. The article stated that the mission was accused of gross violations of human rights and was turning a blind eye to sexual abuse and money laundering activities. The report also carried a statement by an alleged victim of rape and that she was being held against her will. There were also allegations of Satanism. The Ombud partly overturned the decision of the Acting Public Advocate declining the complaint on the ground that the matter was a subject of investigation by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural Religious and Linguistic Communities (“CRLRC”).
  2. The Ombud then summed up the following as the complaints he was to adjudicate:
    1. 1 that the respondent did not give the applicant’s daughter, Louise Pretorius, a right of reply;
    2. 2 that the respondent had “redacted and edited (Louise’s) testimony in such a way that her opinion was distorted” and that
    3. 3 the respondent “should have asked (Louise) for permission to use her voice in the video.”

The implicated sections of the Code were 1.1, 1.2, 1.7 and 1.8.

I must consider the application on the basis of these complaints.

  1. The respondent, in light of Louise’s denial of allegations, offered her a right of reply, which was rejected by the applicant who stated that that did not mean they did not want an opportunity to respond
  2. The daughter was never mentioned by name and, as the Ombud correctly stated, the respondent was not obliged to approach her for comment. In any case, the opportunity to comment was offered. Regarding the complaint that Louise’s permission was not sought, the Ombud found that her testimony had been published on the KSB website for all to read and therefore that there was no need to seek her permission.
  3. As far as the complaint of distortion was concerned, again the Ombud motivated why it could not stand: The reportage substantially covered what was recorded on the KSB website.
  4. The complaints before me revolve around Louise. The applicant’s notice of appeal does not take her case any further, except on one possible point, namely that a case can be argued that Louise could have been identified by at least some of the readers. However, it takes one back to the point that the respondent offered her the right of reply, which offer still stands because it is contained in the papers placed before the Ombud; that is, it is part of the record of proceedings and may not be withdrawn. That being the case, even if leave to appeal were granted and the appeal succeeded, Louise would get exactly what is being offered, namely, the right to reply. I therefore see no need to grant leave to appeal. The matter can be resolved simply by Louise exercising her right of reply. The application is therefore denied.

Dated this 5th day of March 2021

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel