The Registrar of the Commission received a complaint from the owner of a zoo in Kwa-Zulu Natal. In the main, its complaint was that the SABC, in its nature programme on SABC 2, 50/50, gave a wrong impression of the state of the animals in the zoo, photographed cages in such a manner that they appeared much smaller than they really are and also should have included a comment by the proprietor, which the journalist involved had elicited from him in a questionnaire concerning several matters at the Zoo.
The Tribunal agreed that it was in the public interest to broadcast a programme on the subject of alleged peculiar behaviour of caged animals. The fact that the cages were photographed from an angle which did not show the actual size was not important: it was the peculiar behaviour of the animals which gave rise to discussion. Prof Odendaal, an expert approached by the SABC, gave his opinion on camera and it is not for the Tribunal to inquire into the question whether he was correct in his reasoning. He is entitled to his opinion and the SABC was free to broadcast it. Whether the programme was sufficiently balanced is a different question.
As to the repetition of the peculiar conduct of the chimpanzee, incorrectly called Billy, the Tribunal held that it is irrelevant what his name was: he clearly displayed strange behaviour. A reasonable viewer would, however, realize that such behaviour could be attributed to a variety of factors, not necessarily limited to or resulting from the fact that he was in a cage. The repeated showing of his strange behaviour would have been understood by the reasonable viewer to have amounted to sensation-mongering and not as a basis for a rational inference of abuse.
The last question addressed by the Tribunal was whether the programme, judged as a whole, was fair. When Mr Boswell was given the list of questions, he answered the questions in a reasonable manner. Mr Boswell’s view, limited as it was, was however, not conveyed to the viewers. When viewers were told that he did not wish to comment on the behaviour of the animals, it was only partly true. What he did, was to reserve judgment until more expert information was at his disposal. And that is what should have been conveyed to the viewers. This would have given the necessary balance to the programme. The omission to broadcast his view amounts to a breach of clause 35 of the Code. The Tribunal ordered the SABC to broadcast a specifically worded explanatory and correcting statement on 50/50.