William Bird, the director of the Media Monitoring Project (MMP), is a very disappointed – and angry – person, writes Jeremy Gordin in the Sunday Independent. The MMP is extremely disappointed with the press ombudsman's Friday ruling about the complaint against the Daily Sun for its coverage of the xenophobic violence," said Bird.


MMP, with the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, submitted a complaint – endorsed by Lawyers for Human Rights, the Agency for Refugee Education, Skills Training and Advocacy and the Jesuit Refugee Service – to Joe Thloloe, the press ombudsman. It alleged that the Daily Sun newspaper had shown a clear case of bias against non-nationals and had presented violence as a way of resolving conflict, and had therefore violated several clauses of the press code.

But Thloloe has ruled that the complaint cannot be "entertained" by his office. He said the weight of the MMP's complaint rested on the use of the word "alien" in the newspaper's stories, headlines and graphics.

The MMP had, however, according to the ombudsman, become "tangled up in a logical knot when it referred at various points in its own submission to non-nationals, foreign nationals, non-South Africans, foreigners, non-South African residents, and non-national people".

So, although the press code states that "the press should avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people", the MMP, said Thloloe, had failed to prove its case.

The MMP, said Thloloe, argued that in the Daily Sun the word alien was weighted with further negative connotations as it was almost always attached to stories about criminality, theft, and most recently the xenophobic attacks.

"The continual reference to 'aliens' and their link with some negative, often illegal, act would clearly create sub-conscious concerns if not acrimonious feelings regarding foreign peoples," submitted the MMP.

The MMP also, said Thloloe, gave a list of headlines in the newspaper in April and May as examples of writing with negative connotations and gave the example of a story headlined "SA is hell for alien kids", about the challenges experienced by refugee children.

The MMP said it was positive that such a story was covered, but the use of "alien" in the headline immediately drew empathy and understanding away from the children who are not "us".

But, said Thloloe, the MMP "did not show how this use of alien draws empathy and understanding away".

The ombudsman noted that Deon du Plessis, the publisher of the Daily Sun, had argued: "Alien is brief and strong. It fits a newspaper headline. Even foreigner (which has the same meaning) has nine letters to the five letters of alien. Phrases such as non-national – 11 letters – displaced foreign national – 24 letters – economic migrant – 15 letters – are not found in the Daily Sun."

Click here to read the full rpoert, posted on iol.co.za.