Complaints were received about a comment that was made by Rian van Heerden during the breakfast show. The comments concerned the death of a student after apparently having drowned in a swimming pool during a hostel event. Complainants argued, inter alia, that the presenter had accused senior students of murder and that his comment was premature.
The Tribunal found that the insert did not contain any direct criticism of the senior students or any reference to “murder” as alleged by two of the complainants. One could also not regard anything that was said as amounting to the presenter’s having made a false charge. Had the presenter accused the students as having committeed a crime, that would have amounted to defamation. The comments of the presenter, however, did not go that far.
The Tribunal, in not upholding the complaints, stated as follows:
On the whole it is believed that the presenter acted within the ambit of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed to every citizen, and also that he did not exceed the stricter bounds set for a broadcaster, which has the privilege of addressing a large group of listeners on airwaves, that indeed belong to the public (res publica). He was not pre-judging the outcome of the inquiry, nor was he blaming anyone of criminal responsibility. He was expressing a view on a matter of public importance and he was entitled to express his surprise at the fact that the student had not been missed by the group. Whether his surprise was well-founded, is a matter upon which reasonable listeners might differ. But that is the effect of freedom of expression: one need not necessarily express opinions with which everyone agrees. If it is a poor opinion, the marketplace of opinions will take care of it.