Complaint re coverage by the Cape Times and the Argus of the Tiger Tiger court case
‘The press strives to hold these rights in trust for the country's citizens; and it is subject to the same rights and duties as the individual. Everyone has the duty to defend and further these rights, in recognition of the struggles that created them: the media, the public and government, who all make up the democratic state’. Preamble: South African Press Code
Introduction to complaint
I am a relative of one of the youths who have become known as the Tiger Tiger Five and friendly with the other boys. I refer this complaint to the Press Council in response to the underlined section (above) of the preamble to the Press Code.
The Press Council exists to promote ethical journalism of a high standard which does not contravene the requirements of the Press Code.
I contend that the coverage of the ‘Tiger Tiger Five’ court case in the Wynberg Regional Court between November last year and June this year by Carlo Petersen of the Cape Times and Kieran Legg of the Argus contravened the tenets of the Press Code in many ways and I respectfully request your ruling on this.
I date this complaint from the appearance on the front page of the Cape Times on 26 June of the article reproduced below.
Section 2 of the Preamble to the Press Code reads:
As journalists, we commit ourselves to the highest standards of excellence, to maintain credibility and keep the trust of our readers. This means always striving for truth, avoiding unnecessary harm, reflecting a multiplicity of voices in our coverage of events, showing a special concern for children and other vulnerable groups, and acting independently.
This complaint questions whether, in the reporting of the Tiger Tiger Five court case, the Cape Times and the Argus:
- Strove to achieve the highest standards of excellence?
- Strove for truth?
- Avoided unnecessary harm?
The Tiger Tiger Five story was broken by reporter Carlo Petersen of the Cape Times on 24 November last year and he thereafter wrote a series of articles along with his reporting colleague at the Argus, Kieran Legg.
Relatives of the five who were initially accused, most of whom live in East London, hired local private investigator Christian Botha to investigate the allegation of the complainant, Delia Adonis. The boy’s version contradicted the newspaper article and they stated that the complainant was the aggressor rather than the victim. (Botha is a highly respected private investigator who has his own website and has solved some of South African’s most sensational cases.)
All charges against the five youths initially charged in November last year were unequivocally withdrawn in June this year. In fact, so flimsy was the state case that two of the youths never appeared in court but their testimony as witnesses could well have played a role in the withdrawal of the state case.
We contend that all the articles were characterised by bias and above all by censorship by omission to bolster the central theme in the way the two newspapers covered the story – that the five accused were brutal racists, prone not just to violence but were potential murderers and the Cape Town equivalent of Pretoria’s Waterkloof Four.
(The latter claim is specious. The Waterkloof Four specifically sought out vagrants with the intention of assaulting them. If the Tiger Tiger accused had wanted to find vagrants, Cape Town has many of them. The withdrawal of all charges indicates that the five youths went to a popular and highly-regarded nightclub to have a good time in the company of their peers. Their counsel, William Booth, testified in court that, far from being aggressors, they were assaulted by their accuser. CCTV footage indicated that a small cut on the forehead sustained by Delia Adonis in the fracas could well have been the result of the accused defending themselves against her attack. )
The concept of innocent until proven guilty has been ignored in way the two newspapers approached their reportage of this court case and the word ‘alleged’ was never used during this time.
The basis of our complaint against the newspapers coverage is that no charges were ever put to the accused and they were never asked to plead and although no findings were ever made by the presiding magistrate because the state’s case collapsed, they were repeatedly excoriated in headline and in article content as proven racists and potential murderers who had, irrefutably, assaulted a middle aged women and, undeniably, verbally abused her with racist epithets.
Beyond the unproven accusations of the complainants, no evidence was ever produced to justify the headlines and articles in the Cape Times and the Argus which damaged the reputations of the Tiger Tiger Five, reduced their standing in the community and will haunt them for the rest of their live. This reporting has, furthermore, caused substantial harm to the Tiger Tiger brand and reputation as a safe venue for young people to gather and significant financial loss. At no stage did either of the reporters use the word ‘alleged’ in their articles.
When the denouement came and the charges were withdrawn, William Booth, counsel for the accused, stated unequivocally, for the record and on the record, that the complainant was the aggressor and that she assaulted one of the boys, using a broom
This information was deliberately withheld from Cape Times readers by Carlo Petersen – see article above.
Our complaint, thus, is that, in its reporting of this story the Cape Times and the Argus contravened every element of sections 2.1 – 2.4 of the Press Code.
Here is what Botha ascertained and his evidence and that of the investigating officer was sufficiently compelling to persuade the head of the NPA in the Western Cape, advocate Rodney de Kock to withdraw all charges:
Security personnel on duty in the Stadium on Main centre where the Tiger Tiger nightclub is a tenant witnessed at close range a fracas between two groups of white youths and intervened to end it.
Tiger Tiger security personal said that Delia Adonis then chose to become involved. One of the protagonists was on crutches and when he fell, she grabbed the crutch and attacked the people she perceived to be his assailants.
Adonis then called her son, Tesh Lee. She, armed with her cleaning mop and her son then followed the group which had been involved in the fight to their car and another fight started and Ms Adonis was banging on their car which then drove away. During this scuffle, Adonis sustained a blow to the head which resulted in a slight cut on her forehead and she asked the security to stop her son who had broken a bottle and was attacking the boy’. After this she walked to Tiger Tiger and a doorman at the club fetched a first aid kit and offered to dress the cut.
Botha is quoted in the Daily Dispatch of June 26 as follows:
East London private investigator Christian Botha said he had been tasked by the families to investigate the matter and obtained corroborating witness statements from security guards and bouncers at the Tiger Tiger complex that contradicted the complainants’ statements.
“They said the woman and her son were the aggressors in the incident,” said Botha.
He said there had been two separate fights outside Tiger Tiger on the night in question, alleging Adonis had assisted a victim from one of the fights.
Botha further alleged Adonis and her son had attacked the former Selborne pupils thinking they had been the aggressors in that fight.
When the car left, Delia Adonis walked unaided to the nightclub and complained to the General Manager, Shaun Lewis. He is adamant that she was completely mobile and while there was a trace of blood on her forehead, she was not covered in blood.
Contrary to repeated claims in Cape Times and Argus articles that she was so savagely beaten by the accused that she could not move and was so covered in blood that she could barely see, she walked from the car park into the nightclub where he spoke to her. She showed no mobility problems and the only injury he could see was a cut on her forehead.
Neither he nor the bouncer were interviewed by the police and no statements were ever taken by the police and they were never asked to go the police station to make any statements.
Two elements of what he told Christian Botha repeating:
a) Delia Adonis was not severely injured as prosecutor Nathan Johnson and the two newspapers repeatedly claimed over a period of six months and, b) during those six months the SAPS made no effort to investigate the claims of Delia Adonis and her son Tesh-Lee. The police never interviewed him or the security personnel and never took statements from them and neither did they collect the CCTV footage which, right from the start, was offered by the nightclub which would have disproved the claims by Adonis.
The evidence gathered by Christian Botha adds important context to the following timeline of articles which we have compiled to show how the Cape Times and the Argus, repeatedly claimed as a matter of proven and indisputable fact in headline and article, that the three accused were emphatically and beyond any shadow of doubt proven racists, proven assaulters and potential murderers. At no stage is the word ‘alleged’ used and they were constantly cited in both newspapers as proven assaulters.
Any testimony which did not support this message – such as the testimony in the Wynberg Magistrate’s court on 2 February by Advocate William Booth, counsel for the accused, that his clients were attacked by the complainant and her son and that they were, thus, victims of aggression rather than aggressors, was either suppressed by the Cape Times and the Argus or mentioned in passing in a single sentence. Carlo Petersen of the Cape Times deliberately withheld Booth’s testimony in this regard for the entire duration of the case.
It was only after the state had withdrawn all charges that the Argus, belatedly, used the word ‘alleged’ for the first time in six months of reporting on the case:
The case first came to light last year when De Matos, 19, Aaron Mack, 20, and Mitchell Turner, 20, were arrested for allegedly beating the cleaner.
If the word allegedly was justified when the state withdrew all charges, then why not from the very first court appearance of the three accused?
Botha contends that, at most, the youths could have been charged with common assault and that common assault does not justify incarceration in a notorious prison like Pollsmoor. He says that their constitutional rights were undoubtedly violated and the Cape Times and the Argus should have investigated this aspect when our defence lawyer, William Booth first raised this concern in the Wynberg Regional Court in early February this year.
What is striking is the way that the Cape Times and the Argus went to great lengths to dig up dirt on one of the accused, Chad de Matos, but did no follow up articles to question the conduct of Delia Adonis, her son and prosecutor Nathan Johnson once all charges were withdrawn against the accused.
We contend that the bias by the two newspapers in their coverage of this court case contravenes section 2.1 and 2.2 of the Press Code.
The following timeline of the way in which various newspapers have covered the arrest, incarceration and court appearances of the Tiger Tiger Three is provided to illustrate our point that the Cape Times and Argus abandoned ethical constraints in their coverage of this court case. Nowhere is the word ‘alleged’ used by the two newspapers until it appeared in one sentence in the Argus once all charges had been withdrawn. It was never used at all in the Cape Times.
That the three accused were guilty of extreme criminal conduct was repeatedly and strongly emphasised as a given by the Cape Times and the Argus for six months despite the fact that they were never asked to plead to any charges and were never found guilty of a single crime mentioned on the state charge sheet at the start of the trial.
The fact that other news agencies were reporting the court statements by advocate William Booth accurately and in a way which contrasted starkly with the Cape Times and the Argus articles did not faze the reporters of these two newspapers nor their superiors, neither did this persuade them to change their modus operandi and their narrative. They need to explain why, in doing this, all conventional norms of ethical reporting and news propagation were abandoned from the start. I have highlighted the truthful newspaper accounts in green to distinguish them from the Cape Times and Argus reports.
24/11/2014 (IOL Cape Times, Carlo Petersen) - Cop in hot water over racial assault (headline)
A brutal attack in which a 52-year-old mother of six was beaten and racially abused (copy)
26/11/2014(IOL, Cape Times, Carlo Petersen) – 3 in dock for attempted murder of cleaner (headline)
…after cleaner Delia Adonis was brutally assaulted in another “race-related” case in Cape Town. (copy)
27/11/2014(IOL, Cape Times, Carlo Petersen) – Three in court for mall cleaner’s assault (headline)
27/11/2014(IOL, Cape Times, Carlo Petersen) … who was beaten and racially assaulted in front of her teenage son (copy)
28/11/2014 (IOL, Cape Argus, Kieran Legg,) The trio, who have been likened by prosecutor Nathan Johnson to the Waterkloof Four – convicted of the murder of an unidentified vagrant in Pretoria’s Moreleta Park in 2001… (copy)
They are facing charges of attempted murder and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm after they attacked Delia Adonis, 52, a cleaner at Stadium on Main, outside the Tiger Tiger night club in Claremont. (copy)
Adonis called for help, bringing local law enforcement officers to the victim of the beating. (copy)
1/12/2014 (IOL, Cape Times, Carlo Petersen) Delia Adonis, was brutally attacked and racially assaulted in front of her teenage son. (copy)
The attack took place in the parking lot on October 17. (copy)
5/2/2015 (The South African, Katy Scott) Assaulted Claremont cleaner is perpetrator, not victim, says Booth (headline)
6/2/2015 (IOL, Cape Times Carlo Petersen) Accused racists’ release probed (headline)
Manenberg grandmother Delia Adonis was beaten and racially assaulted in front of her teenage son (copy)
26/6/2015 (Netwerk 24, Die Burger, Malherbe Nienaber) Hof trek aanklagte terug; eis kan volg
29/6/2015 (Cape Times, Carlo Pietersen) Dropping of charges incenses victim
29/6/2015 (Argus, Kieran Legg) ‘Racist attack’ charges withdrawn
Absence of Audi – the court hearing on 6 February
2.2 News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarisation. (my emphasis)
In this section of my complaint I wish to concentrate on the ‘material omissions’ aspect of Section 2.2 of the Press Code – what I would succinctly define as ‘ censorship by omission’.
In this regard I wish to make specific reference to the testimony of counsel for the accused, advocate William Booth at the beginning of February this year. This was the first occasion when evidence was revealed that there might be another side to the narrative that the Cape Times and the Argus had been so aggressively promoting for months with sensational headlines accusing the three youths of being murderous racists.
In his article Accused in ‘race attack’ case released on 6 February this year, Cape Times reporter Carlo Petersen devotes 12 sentences to the detriment of the accused and only one to the possibility that there might be another side to the story: ‘Booth also slammed the State for labelling the incident a race attack, saying more investigations and evidence should have been sought before hauling Mack, De Matos and Turner before the court.’
This brief reference, devoid of detail, was the only occasion in a series of articles spanning six months in which Carlo Petersen refers to the basic reason why the senior state prosecutor in the Western Cape, Rodney de Kock, faced with the irrefutable evidence of affidavits by witnesses that proved that Delia and Tesh-Lee Adonis were aggressors and not victims, decided to withdraw all charges.
Petersen was in the Wynberg Magistrates on 5 February this year when advocate William Booth made his sensational claim that far from being the victims, Delia and Tesh-Lee Adonis were the aggressors which implies that they perjured themselves. After the court was adjourned he telephonically contacted advocate Booth for further comment to ensure he had all the facts which was provided. He deliberately did not use this comment.
Here is what Katy Scott, writing for the South African wrote of the 5 February and the difference between her coverage and that of Carlo Petersen is stark and telling: Defence lawyer for the accused, William Booth, told the Wynberg Regional Court this morning that his clients were attacked by Adonis, and that she is the perpetrator, not the victim.
He continued to explain Adonis and her son, Tesh-Lee had attacked his clients.
‘Various independent witnesses say that Adonis and her son were the aggressors and initiated the attack,’ Booth told us.
‘She [Adonis] is the perpetrator, not the victim’.
‘We are looking at having the charges dropped’.
Even a first-year journalism student would have recognised how sensational it was that leading advocate should make such claims which ran entirely counter to what the Cape Times and the Argus had been so assiduously propagating and, unsurprisingly, Scott’s article headlined this fact: Assaulted Claremont cleaner is perpetrator, not victim, says Booth.
The headline on Petersen’s Cape Times account of this court appearance was: Accused racists’ release probed – this despite the fact that no evidence was ever led which proved that the three youths were the racists and that Booth’s questioning of the way they were arrested and held in custody should have rung alarm bells about the legal bona fides of prosecutor Nathan Johnson’s intent in so doing. The two other boys had as agreed with the Investigating officer handed themselves over to the police and were charged for assault. They were at the court on the trail date of the 5th February to be added to the court roll but Nathan Johnson said it was irregular and refused to add them to the court roll.
Censorship by omission - June 26
On June 25 it was announced that the state case against Mitchell Turner, Aaron Mack and Chad De Matos had utterly collapsed and on June 25 advocate William Booth substantiated and elaborated upon his statement at the 5 February hearing
On 26 June, Barbara Hollands’ article appeared in the Daily Dispatch and in Times Live and here is what she wrote: In a startling turnaround‚ Booth told Daily Dispatch yesterday that the men and their families were now considering taking criminal and civil action against Adonis and her son.
“Now the truth is out. She assaulted one of my clients with a broomstick. She was the perpetrator in this incident‚” said Booth.
“She alleged this was a racist attack‚ which is a blatant lie. It had nothing to do with racism. They are not racist‚” said Booth.
He said the case should have been investigated before the boys were arrested.
The sensational collapse of the state case on Thursday, 25 June and Booth’s astonishing claims that, in effect, Delia Adonis and her son had perjured themselves and that prosecutor Nathan Johnson had misdirected himself in getting the three accused incarcerated in a notorious prison was withheld from the readers of the Cape Times the next day
By the time Carlo Petersen wrote his front page article, headlined ‘Dropping of charges incenses victim’ (three days after the event) there had been no less than three reports on the cardinal reason why the case was dropped and yet Petersen, with the exception of the above-mentioned single sentence, withheld this salient fact from the readers of the Cape Times from the beginning of February until the end of June when the case effectively ended - and that ignorance among Cape Times and IOL website readers endures because the article illustrated above does not appear if the names of the three accused are typed into the search bar of the IOL website and it can only be accessed through the Press Reader facility if you type the headline into the search bar of the IOL website.
Also on 26 June, Malherbe Nienaber’s article appeared in Die Burger and here is an English translation of what he wrote in reference to advocate Booth’s sensational claim: Booth said that it was now clear there was not a ‘race attack’ as was originally speculated. He said criminal charges against Adonis and her son were now being contemplated because they apparently hit the boys.
Civil claims could also follow because, according to Booth, there was no evidence to justify the charges against the boy’s.
What is clear, then, is that Cape Times reporter Carlo Petersen and his editor Aneez Salie could not have been unaware by the time that the Monday 29 June edition of the newspaper was made up on Sunday, 28 June of the dramatic reason why the state case had collapsed and the explosive import of advocate Booth’s testimony which had been a matter of repeated public record for three days. Despite this, no mention of the fact that Delia Adonis and her son could well have perjured themselves appears in the front-page story of the Cape Times, Dropping of charges incenses victim on Monday 29 June.
In its front-page report on 29 June there is just a single sentence, deliberately devoid of detail: The DPP’s decision came after Booth had made submissions that there was no prospect of a successful prosecution.
Once again the headline falsely states that Delia Adonis was a victim when it was, by then, common cause that she was not the victim but the aggressor.
Please find below the statement which Booth made in this connection and which was reflected in the Daily Dispatch and Times Live on Thursday 25 June:
“Now the truth is out. She assaulted one of my clients with a broomstick. She was the perpetrator in this incident‚” said Booth.
“She alleged this was a racist attack‚ which is a blatant lie. It had nothing to do with racism. They are not racist‚” said Booth.
Despite the fact that Booth’s claims had already been in the public domain for several days by the time the Cape Times made up its Monday edition on Sunday 28 June, the above-mentioned information was deliberately withheld from Cape Times readers. Was this not a breach of trust with its readers and a breach of section 2.2 of the Press Code with reference to omissions?
Given the recent and ignominious collapse of the state case against Shrien Dewani the public is entitled to know from prosecutors Nathan Johnson and Rodney de Kock why another state case had ignominiously collapsed, this time in connection with five youths who the Cape Times and the Argus repeatedly cited as Cape Town’s answer to the Waterkloof Four – citing, in turn, prosecutor Nathan Johnson.
There is no evidence however that reporters Carlo Petersen and Kieran Legg phoned the two prosecutors in this regard or that their respective editors, Aneez Salie and Gasant Abarder had instructed them to do so.
An extremely troubling aspect of this case is that prosecutor Johnson, before going to trial did not analyse the CCTV footage which showed Delia Adonis walking unaided from the carpark with only a small amount of blood from a cut on her forehead (which she could well have sustained when the youths defended themselves against her attack) because it was never collected by the SAPS. Yet, despite this, he told the court that she was so badly injured that she could not move and she was covered in blood. Nathan Johnson went even further and increased the charge from Assault to Attempted Murder without any investigation. The upgrading of the charge to Attempted Murder was based on the written statement of the complainant and a verbal statement from her son who was 19 years old [not 17 as reported].
In the very first article by Carlo Petersen on the allegations by Delia Adonis - published on November 24 last year, we read: Tiger Tiger general manager Shaun Lewis said: “We can confirm the incident involving five of our patrons outside of the mall, but we are investigating the alleged incident, which apparently happened in the parking lot. We have CCTV footage and will be handing it over to police.”
If Johnson pressed ahead with the charges without looking at the CCTV footage – and the Tiger Tiger management say it was offered but never collected - then it is difficult to see this not only as a grave dereliction of duty but as deliberately misleading the court and this, in itself, deserved an article.
The preamble to the Press Code states: Our work is guided at all times by the public interest, understood to describe information of legitimate interest or importance to citizens. (my emphasis). If Carlo Petersen and Kieran Legg and their respective editors Aneez Salie and Gasant Abarder felt that it was ‘of legitimate interest or importance to citizens’ to relentlessly portray the Tiger Tiger Five over a period of six months as vicious white racists and potential murderers motivated by the same base, criminal instincts as the Waterkloof Four (even though no evidence was ever led and there was no court finding to justify the impression so assiduously created by these two newspapers) then surely it was of equivalent ‘legitimate interest or importance to citizens’ to inform their readers why, as a matter of proven fact, they were not and why the state withdrew all charges when presented with evidence to the contrary by advocate Booth?
Even though the senior public prosecutor in the province, Rodney de Kock, no longer accepted that Adonis and her son were victims, the entire thrust of the 29 June front-page article in the Cape Times continues to portray the accused in a negative light. Why did Petersen and Salie hide this truth from Cape Times readers in what was clearly a material omission and thus a contravention of Section 2.2 of the Press Code?
Section 2 of the preamble to the Press Code states: As journalists, we commit ourselves to the highest standards of excellence, to maintain credibility and keep the trust of our readers.
According to the preamble to Press Code, This means always striving for truth.
Section 2.2 further refines the definition and requirements of striving for truth to include inter alia ‘without any … material omissions’
2.2 News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarisation. (my emphasis)
Given the way in which the Cape Times in particular withheld from its readers the testimony of advocate William Booth that the complainants were aggressors and not victims, one is left with the impression that, in contravention of the preamble to the Press Code, the Cape Times and the Argus betrayed their readers and it is this impression that the two newspapers need to dispel.
Fairness and Balance
I turn now to the elements of fairness and balance as demanded by Sections 2.1 and 2.2 of the Press Code.
All coverage of the story of the Tiger Tiger Five in the Cape Times and the Argus ceased after June 29 and yet this was clearly not the end of the matter, it was merely the end of its first stage.
The elements of fairness and balance demanded of the Cape Times and the Argus that they devote an equivalent amount of resources, time, column centimetres and headline space to examining why the charges had been so suddenly withdrawn and the role played in that withdrawal by the complainant and her son and by prosecutor Nathan Johnson.
With the collapse of the state’s case against Shrien Dewani still fresh in the memory one would have expected editorials by editors Aneez Salie and Gasant Abarder and op-ed articles by the two court reporters, Carlo Petersen and Kieran Legg assessing the merits of the state case, analysing its weakness and calling on the NPA to do better.
There has been nothing of the sort – once the charges were withdrawn the Cape Times and the Argus instantly dropped the story – why, if they are committed to the fairness and balance demanded by the Press Code, did this happen?
One self-evident weakness in the state case which was never raised, still less questioned by the two reporters was the complete absence of any visual or documentary evidence presented by prosecutor Johnson to buttress the damning accounts by Delia Adonis and her son.
Absence of visual evidence
Most South African citizens, rich and poor, young and old, carry mobile phones which they use to take photographs or video footage.
So much so that the number of cellphones exceeds the total population of the country
Wikipedia put the number of cellphones in use in South Africa in 2013 at almost 60 million
Yet despite the claims by the Cape Times and the Argus that racial abuse of black and coloured cleaning staff by drunk, white patrons in the vicinity of the Tiger Tiger nightclub is pervasive, not a single frame of cellphone video footage or cellphone stills have been produced to back this claim and reporters Petersen and Legg, supported by their editors, seem not to have asked the simple and obvious question, “Why?” Could it be that they did not want the facts to interfere with their narrative?
The absence of mobile phone images becomes even more relevant when one considers the severe injuries allegedly suffered by the middle-aged Delia Adonis when she was attacked, if we are to believe the Cape Times and the Argus, by five young men, fuelled by excessive alcohol intake and intent, according to the charge sheet on not merely severely injuring her but of murdering her.
Adonis - stressing the fact that she was “brutally attacked” and “severely beaten” by five young men who the Cape Times and the Argus repeatedly emphasised in banner headlines and in articles were “racists” who had much in common with the Waterkloof Four - maintained that she was so badly injured that was “almost killed” her face was “covered in blood” and she “could not move”
Here are some of the statements to that effect that the Cape Times and the Argus avidly printed.
Adonis said she was so badly beaten her face was covered in blood and she could not move (IOL Carlo Petersen 24 November 2014)
Adonis said she was so badly beaten her face was covered in blood and she could not move
“There was so much blood pouring from my face I couldn’t see. When I washed my face. I just thought to myself: ‘Boys, you can run but I leave you in the hands of the Lord’.” (IOL Carlo Petersen 24 November 2014)
She was kicked on her head and face and could not move. If her son had not intervened, she could have been killed. (IOL, Carlo Petersen, 26 November 2014)
At the courthouse she said her son, Tesh-Lee Adonis, had saved her from certain death. (IOL, Kieran Legg, 28 November 2014)
“These boys almost killed me” (Cape Times front page story, Carlo Petersen 29 June 2015)
My question is thus simple: Where is the photographic evidence, either stills, cellphone video footage or CCTV screen grabs to sustain these allegations or to prove that she was so badly injured? And where is the medical certificate which would support the state contention of the severe injuries she allegedly suffered.
Everyone from rich to poor, from young to old, carries a cellphone and so, too, one imagines, do Delia and Tesh-Lee Adonis. We are told that the intervention of the immensely brave Tesh-Lee[17 years old when he was actually 19 years old], facing the “Tiger Tiger Five” all intent on emulating the deeds of the Waterkloof Four and murdering his mother undoubtedly saved her life – “It was reported that Adonis could’ve died had her son Tesh-Lee not rushed to her aid.” (IOL 26 November, 2014).
We are further led to believe by the Cape Times and the Argus that racial abuse of people of colour by drunk whites is pervasive in the vicinity of the Tiger Tiger nightclub
We are led to believe by the Cape Times and the Argus that this has been going on for nine years, ever since the night club opened its doors in April 2006.
Surely then, in that time, somebody must have captured cellphone stills or video of this common occurrence? Above all, these pervasive attacks over a period of nine years (Tiger Tiger opened its doors in 2006) must have been captured on CCTV footage given the fact that the nightclub has almost three dozen CCTV cameras inside and outside the premises. It defies belief that Adonis and her son did not use their cellphones to take photographs of her injuries which were so grievous.
Furthermore, in stark contrast to the favourable reviews patrons on the Tiger Tiger website, here are some of the allegations of racial abuse, allegedly commonplace in the vicinity of the nightclub, published by the Cape Times and the Argus without any independent verification whatsoever:
Adonis, 52, said: “Recently one of them wanted to urinate in my cleaning bucket. When I stopped him, he said: ‘If I want to p*** here, I’ll p*** here… You’re just a coloured’.”
Tesh-Lee said he saw the men circling his mother.
“I asked them: ‘Who do you think you are swearing at?’. And then one of them said: ‘This coloured b****’,” he said.
“Then I heard them say: ‘You’re a coloured c***, you coloured mother******’, to my mother. One of them kicked her from behind. She fell over and then they just all started kicking her all over her body.”
The allegation made by Adonis about a drunk patron wanting to urinate in her cleaning bucket – which was never questioned in any way, by Carlo Petersen is extremely serious because it goes way beyond verbal abuse and implies indecent exposure. Adonis alleges that her persecutor was just about to urinate in her cleaning bucket when she stopped him. The obvious question which any ethical and competent reporter would have asked her is: Did he expose himself in preparation for urinating in your bucket and did you make a written report about this to your employer, to the nightclub, to your union and to the police?
Petersen did not see fit to raise this obviously pertinent question and the justifiable question is, why not?
The impression is overwhelming that Delia and Tesh-Lee Adonis could say whatever they liked and as long as it was detrimental to the five accused and the Cape Times and the Argus were happy to publish these allegations without asking for proof or seeking verification from witnesses.
Given that, according to the Cape Times and the Argus, people of colour in the area around Tiger Tiger are routinely exposed to racial abuse by whites, logic tells one that:
Charges of crimen injuria must have been regularly laid in the past nine years but neither prosecutor Johnson, nor the two newspapers have produced evidence of this.
Trades union must have been informed and would have intervened but nowhere in any of the articles is this mentioned and it never seems to have occurred to the two reporters or their editors to question this.
Employees of Stadium on Main must have submitted many written reports to their employers given the fact that, according to Carlo Petersen: a Cape Town nightclub risks being shut down for failing to curb drunken and disorderly behaviour of its patrons.
Yet no evidence to this effect has been produced by either prosecutor Johnson or the two reporters. Why not?
Absence of medical certificate
We are led to believe by the Cape Times and the Argus that on October 17 last Delia Adonis was attacked by no less than five young and drunk assailants who could be likened to the Waterkloof Four. According to newspaper reports she was repeatedly kicked in the head and in the body. Clearly then, if these allegations are true she must have sustained severe injuries and the two newspapers do not disappoint in outlining in gory detail that Delia Adonis suffered when her assailants administered a “severe” beating. This beating was so severe and was made with such vicious intent that the prosecutor Nathan Johnson, charged them with attempted murder and insisted that they be incarcerated for several days in the notorious Pollsmoor Prison.
Here are some of the details of that savage beating;
Adonis said she was so badly beaten her face was covered in blood
“There was so much blood pouring from my face I couldn’t see.”
Here is the evidence proffered in court by prosecutor Nathan Johnson:
“She was kicked on her head and face and could not move. If her son had not intervened, she could have been killed.”
Clearly, in the light of this severe beating, Delia Adonis would have needed to have her battered face stitched and one must assume that her son immediately rushed her hospital or to a private doctor where the practitioner who treated her would have been only too happy, to provide a medical certificate to corroborate her severe injuries. This documentary medical evidence, along with the photographs which her son must have taken or had taken to prove the extent of her allegedly severe injuries, would have provided the Cape Times and the Argus with dramatic front page illustrations to go with the sensational articles by reporters Carlo Petersen and Kieran Legg. Yet no such illustrations have ever appeared – why not? What happened to the medical certificate?
Furthermore, in the photograph of Adonis which appears on the IOL website, taken a few weeks after the supposed brutal beating, there is no evidence of severe scarring. How come?
We now know the reason for this because the CCTV footage on the night in question reveals that she sustained a slight cut on her face – nothing more.
In fact the absence of visual or documentary evidence to bolster the state case - which has so avidly publicised by Petersen and Legg with the clear approval of their editors - is striking and an explanation is called for because, in the article by Carlo Petersen, Infamous Cape Tiger Tiger faces closure, we read: Stadium on Main spokeswoman Anel Bridges said: “While we have had complaints of isolated incidents… we cannot say it is anything to warrant concern.”
The two accounts – the one by Nathan Johnson and the other by Anel Bridges cannot be reconciled and are mutually destructive. Either these truly appalling abuses have been ubiquitous for almost a decade and the SAPS, the trades union and the management of Stadium on Main have been criminally negligent in ignoring them or a perception seems to have been created that the Cape Times and the Argus have conspired to deliberately mislead their print and online readers into believing that the Tiger Tiger Five were vicious and racist thugs and that the Stadium on Main centre in general and the Tiger Tiger nightclub in particular were dangerous, toxically racist environments.
So what is the truth? The truth it seems is very different from what the Cape Times and the Argus led their readers to believe. All the indications are that provincial chief public prosecutor Rodney de Kock dropped all charges when confronted by the evidence collected by private investigator Christian Botha and the investigating officer because it then became evident that Delia Adonis deliberately misled the police and, in the end, the court.
All the evidence indicates that the two newspapers made no attempt to follow up on advocate Booth’s sensational evidence in the Wynberg Magistrates Court on February 5 and they thus deserve the severest censure from the Press Council, the institution created by the newspaper industry to safeguard it.
The Preamble to the Press Code states: Our work is guided at all times by the public interest, understood to describe information of legitimate interest or importance to citizens. (my emphasis)
Given the importance which the Cape Times and the Argus attached to portraying the five youths as violence-prone racists with no respect for women, the readers of the two newspapers would have had a legitimate reason in having information imparted to them which could explain why it now appeared they were not the people portrayed by Carlo Petersen and Kieran Legg, and why they were not, in fact, the perpetrators of violence, but the victims of it.
The Chad de Matos/UCT link
An important question which I ask the Press Council to raise is why Cape Times reporter Carlo Petersen saw fit to mention the fact that Chad de Matos is a UCT student but made no mention of the educational institutions to which his co-accused Mitchell Turner and Aaron Mack, are affiliated.
The question is important because it would seem that there is an agenda at play here which is not confined to conventional news interest and conventional reporting and dissemination.
Has Carlo Petersen driven his coverage of the Tiger Tiger Five as a dual campaign linked to a similar campaign against what the Cape Times has called an ‘apartheid-style UCT’? I ask the question and the Press Council also needs to ask it because he mentions in his very first sentence in the first story on the Tiger Tiger Five that Chad de Matos is ‘a UCT student’. In fact, it forms part of his intro: Three young men – one a UCT student – have been charged with attempted murder after cleaner Delia Adonis was brutally assaulted in another “race-related” case in Cape Town.
Two days later it forms part of Kieran Legg’s intro: The charges are racking up for a UCT student accused of beating a cleaner during an alleged racial assault.
Nowhere in any of the articles published in the Cape Times and the Argus on the Tiger Tiger Five is there any mention of which educational institutions, if any, his co-accused Mitchell Turner and Aaron Mack are studying at and that is telling.
The Cape Times has, for months run a relentless campaign condemning UCT as a racist, ‘apartheid-style’ university and the specific mention of de Matos as a UCT student seems to be part of that campaign. The other case of assault which the Cape Times linked to the Tiger Tiger Five in which Ms. Adonis was portrayed as the hero and the boys as the villains has never again received any media coverage even though this was Cape Times headline news. The Tiger Tiger Five were cleared of this assault and another boy has been arrested and identified by the victim and another witness. The Cape Times tried to link the Tiger Tiger Five to the assault even though the witness statements named the attacker which was none of the Tiger Tiger Five. This case has now gone to court but has received no media coverage and this is another proven deception in the statement of Ms. Adonis which clearly stated that after the 5 boy’s had assaulted a boy[ Jon Ross Hendry] she assisted him and the same 5 boy’s then proceeded to racially abuse her and assault her.
The most vilified of the Tiger Tiger Five by the Cape Times and the Cape Argus is Chad De Matos who is well known to the writer and has requested to have his named cleared. The five boys all gave statements to the Police which confirmed that Chad de Matos was not involved in any fight as he was the designated driver and was asleep in his car when the altercations occurred. UCT also hired the services of their private investigator to investigate the allegations against one of their students and he was cleared of any misconduct. Chad De Matos was recently awarded as been in the top 15 percent of UCT academics and is no racist or abuser of women as portrayed by these media houses.
Avoiding unnecessary harm
I turn now to the duty of avoiding unnecessary harm imposed upon newspapers by the preamble to the Press Code: As journalists, we commit ourselves to the highest standards of excellence, to maintain credibility and keep the trust of our readers. This means always striving for truth, avoiding unnecessary harm, (my emphasis) reflecting a multiplicity of voices in our coverage of events, showing a special concern for children and other vulnerable groups, and acting independently.
Do least harm - were the Tiger Tiger Three defamed?
The dictionary definition of defamation reads: Any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person's reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.
There have been at least ten occasions between November 2014 and July 2015 in which in the Cape Times (Carlo Petersen) and the Argus(Kieran Legg) have described, in headline or article, Chad De Matos, 19, Aaron Mack, 20, and Mitchell Turner, 20, as potential murderers and brutal, physically and verbally aggressive racists who would not hesitate to assault and verbally abuse a middle-aged woman and who can be likened to the Waterkloof Four because they have made themselves guilty of crimen injuria and assault with the intent not merely to do grievous bodily harm to a middle-aged woman but to brutally end her life.
They deliberately did so, knowing full well that no juridical decision had been taken in this regard. They did so with the full approval of their news editors, sub editors, editors and senior news executives while working for a company which has senior advocates on call and has not, in the past, hesitated to use them as and when it saw fit and who could, right from the start, have been consulted on the ethics of this approach.
The fact that a) the state unreservedly withdrew all charges once reliable evidence to the contrary was provided, b) that the accused were never asked to plead to these charges and c) that no judicial findings were ever made in this regard would seem to indicate that the Tiger Tiger Five were deliberately libelled.
Advocate William Booth, quoted in the Daily Dispatch after his clients were exonerated said:
“It has been so traumatic for the boys and their families.
“Their names and photos were in the media and all over social media so it has been an emotional strain on them.
“But they have been vindicated because they should never have been prosecuted in the first place.
“The boys and their families are overjoyed that justice has been done, yet the damage has also been done because their names and photos are out there.”
There are four defences which a newspaper can raise when faced with accusations of defamation:
Contravening the Press code
No evidence was ever led and no judgement was handed down proving that the three accused were guilty of attempted murder, assault with the intention of doing grievous bodily harm or crimen injuria.
The portrayal of the accused on at least ten occasions in either headline or body copy as being guilty of the above-mentioned charges was thus neither truthful nor in the public interest, nor could it be considered as reasonable publication.
We thus contend that this coverage contravenes Section 2.1 of the Press Code
2.1 The press shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly
The biased way in which the two newspapers covered advocate Booth’s evidence – censorship by omission – on 2 February and again on November 26 and indeed throughout the period from November 2014 until June 2015 contravenes Section 2.2 of the Press Code
2.2 News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarisation.
While the allegations made by prosecutor Johnson are privileged and can be published, they are merely allegations and should have been reported as such rather than repeatedly presented as proven fact in headlines and copy as the two newspapers and the IOL website did through their reporters Carlo Petersen and Kieran Legg with the manifest support of their editors, Aneez Salie and Gasant Abarder. The newspapers might contend, in their defence, that the two reporters merely reflected what prosecutor Nathan Johnson had said in court but that does not absolve the fact that the Cape Times, in particular, withheld from its readers the striking testimony in the same court in February by William Booth that his clients were the victims of aggression rather than the perpetrators of it.
Together, Salie and Abarder, must have, as editors, decades of experience and must have known that to portray the Tiger Tiger Five in the two newspapers and on the IOL website as proven (not merely alleged) racists, assaulters of women and potential murderers without any evidence having been provided to the court other than the allegations of prosecutor Johnson was to propagate falsehoods which were clearly in breach of the Press Code. Should any of them have had any doubts, their company has lawyers who are media experts on permanent standby who are paid to clarify such matters and who are a phone call or a mouse click away. The three accused appeared in several bail applications in the Wynberg Magistrates Court, but they were never asked to plead and no evidence was ever led before all charges were withdrawn.
To thus portray them as homicidal racists with a propensity for beating up middle-aged women of colour with the same intent as the Waterkloof Four was thus not truthful and cannot be in the public interest because it unjustifiably ratchets up racial tensions in contravention of section 2C of the preamble to the Press Code: Advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
The question thus needs to be asked, was this not the intention?
In the space of four months the state has withdrawn charges in three highly-publicised [by the Cape Times and the Argus] cases alleging hate crimes and Racism by white Capetonians. In each case the state conceded that the complete lack of evidence negated any chance of a successful prosecution. The first was on March 26 when Monique Fuller case was withdrawn, the second was the Tiger Tiger Five on the 26th June and a few day ago the state withdrew all charges against Talan Jo Huyshammer. This does not appear to be an isolated incident.
The consequences of the Cape Times and Argus campaign to portray the accused as murderous racists.
An analysis of what seems to be a classic example of trial by media by the Cape Times and the Argus shows that the two newspapers have gone out of their way to maximise harm against the accused and, and in a constant modus operandi of censorship by omission, have avoided asking any questions that might undermine the claims by Delia and Tesh-Lee Adonis or question the conduct of prosecutor Nathan Johnson.
The consequences have been devastating for the accused as even the most cursory examination of online coverage of the case, specifically on the IOL website, indicates. Their photographs have been repeatedly shown and for the rest of their lives, to the detriment of their personal lives and to the detriment of their future employment opportunities, they will be linked to the accusations by Delia and Tesh-Lee Adonis so avidly promoted by Carlo Petersen and Kieran Legg and their respective newspapers.
Here is a small example of the epithets to which they have been exposed in the comments below the IOL articles by the above-mentioned reporters.
Put the scum in jail and shut the dump down. They are the reason South Africa is so backwards!
I hope that club gets closed down, and these idiots should have their faces shown so that they can get moered to death.
Spoilt brats need a serious beating
These BRATS have no regard and no respect for nobody!!
Tie these little drunkards to a post, and let anyone who walks past give them three lashes with a sjambok. If they survive the day, then they can go home with no criminal charges against them
They are spoilt, racist brats
These filthy morons can go straight to jail and not collect R200.
These COWARDS should be sent to, and REMANDED in Polsmoor for the duration of their trial!!!!
They need a good sjambokking I'd say, 20 lashes each.
A bunch of hateful COWARDS attacking a weak defenceless WOMAN - a mother who tried her best to provide for her children, only to be brutally assaulted, and insulted in the most vulgar manner.
Inevitably this allegedly heinous deed was linked on the internet to racial incidents in the US:
Inevitably the allegedly heinous deed was linked to “race wars” and xenophobic violence.
Inevitably the allegedly heinous deed was linked to violence against women generally
Inevitably the allegedly heinous deed was linked to “white privilege”
As a relative and friend of these five youths we have had to live with the consequences of the hate campaign that they were exposed to as a result of the biased campaign waged by the Cape Times and the Argus. They received death threats and had to close their Facebook accounts for a while. They still have nightmares from their time spent in Pollsmor Prison and if you saw them cry when they were sentenced [as headline news showed] you should of seen them cry when they were released. It has been immensely traumatic for them and their families, relatives and friends. This was wrong and needs to be rectified. It must also be noted that again
It is for these reasons that we make the following request:
should the Press Council find that the coverage by the Cape Times and the Argus – particularly their constant reference over a period of months to the Tiger Tiger Five as proven racists, assaulters of women and potential murderers – be found to be in breach of the Press Code, that the two newspapers be compelled to remove the offending articles from the IOL website. If the articles are in breach of the Press Code then it would be adding insult to grave reputational injury to allow the falsehoods contained in those articles to remain on a medium which allows access to such falsehoods to anyone in the world who has a computer with internet capabilities.
Your kind consideration will be greatly appreciated.