Farm chief accused

17 February 1999

EPC discussed a complaint made by Nikolai Männik, the chairman of the board of an agricultural holding Taali, concerning an article published in Pärnu Postimees headlined “Two hundred cows starving in Taali barn” (by Maria-Kristiina Kontus, 7 January 1999).

Nikolai Männik says that in case of the material concerning a controversy he has not been heard as one side of the conflict, even though contrary to what the journalist contends he had been available. Also an anonymous quotation named him “a certified imbecile” which he finds offensive.

On behalf of Pärnu Postimees answered Maria-Kristiina Kontus who claimed that Nikolai Männik could not be reached by phone as the telephones had been switched off. The journalist said that the used quote regarding Männik was one of the mildest heard from the local people. As the journalist was greatly affected by the forlorn situation she had witnessed in the barn she could not see that she had done something wrong.

In this case EPC derives from the general principle that no situation or activity covered in the media, no matter how condemnable it is, can justify the violation of good journalistic practice. Also the discrepancies of life should be made public compliant to the Code of Ethics.

According to EPC it was justified to make the situation in Taali barns public. Nikolai Männik does not contest in his complaint that the situation is forlorn. Describing the situation is not a material concerning a controversy as such and the journalist has inter alia based the description of the situation on the statements of the barn supervisor Aino Pärnsalu.

But all accusations against Nikolai Männik are considered as a material concerning controversy in the case of which the journalist should have heard Männik as a side of the conflict (Clause 4.2 of the Code) and he should have been offered an opportunity for immediate rebuttal (Clause 5.1). EPC finds that the newspaper could have published the story including the comments by Männik (or any other member of the board of the holding) or provided the story without accusing anyone.

Also EPC finds it condemnable that the newspaper publishes incisive critical remarks without mentioning the source. Anonymity should not be abused. Guaranteeing anonymity can be considered justified in the case of information (not opinion) the truthfulness of which can be checked when necessary and the publication of which is in the public interest.

EPC finds that using the expression “a diplomaed imbecile” was not justified. It is offensive and should not be allowed even when somebody deserves to be criticized. Thus, Pärnu Postimees has breached Clause 1.5 of the Code.

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