By Marika Sboros
The Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) released a press release today saying that it had found Prof Tim Noakes guilty of unprofessional conduct.
That’s not possible, of course, since the case against him has not yet concluded. The Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) that the HPCSA set up to hear the charge has yet to hear closing argument from lawyers on both sides. The PCC will issue a ruling after that, on April 21, 2017.
PCC Chair and effectively “judge” in this case is Pretoria advocate Joan Adams. She has issued a tightly worded statement.
‘Devoid of all truth’
Adams said tersely that the HPCSA’s press release was “devoid of all truth”. Noakes’ lawyer Adam Pike said much the same thing on radio. Pike also announced that Noakes was considering legal action against the HPCSA.
Click here to read: Dietitians scurrying to cover their backs in Noakes trial?
Here’s what Adams had to say:
“A Professional Conduct Committee does not, in the ordinary course of events, issue press statements.
“However, after obtaining independent advice and also after discussing the matter with the learned legal assessor, I am, as Chairperson, obliged to issue same in these exceptional circumstances in the interests of justice.
“It has been brought to our attention that the HPCSA has issued a press report, as disclosed on News24 on 28 October 2016, indicating that Professor Tim Noakes has been found guilty by the Professional Conduct Committee.
“I wish to state the following:
- (The press release) is devoid of all truth;
- The PCC distances itself from such press report;
- The PCC will deliberate in April 2017 after hearing argument; and
- Judgment will be delivered on 21 April 2017 (after hearing argument on 4 and 5 April 2017)’.”
It is interesting to track how this factual misrepresentation unfolded with judicious help from the media. The HPCSA’s press release also makes no sense if read in its entirety. It was on its website for a short while then disappeared.
It starts off by saying that the HPCSA had found Noakes guilty of unprofessional conduct. The HPCSA gives the charge against him. Included in it is that he “provided unconventional advice on breastfeeding babies on social media which was not in accordance with the norms and standards of his profession”.
Towards the end, the release does get something right. It says that lawyers for both sides have yet to argue before the committee. And that the PCC will only hand down its judgment on April 21, 2017.
Thus, why the first paragraph says something completely different from the end anyone’s guess.
News media picked up the release, didn’t do their homework with some basic fact-checking. Reporters clearly didn’t read the whole release or understand it if they did. They simply ran with the “story”. I use the word, story, advisedly in this case as it was, after all, pure fiction.
Thereafter, headlines were speedily click-bait. News24 announced: Noakes guilty of unprofessional conduct. It later added: says HPCSA. You magazine and other media followed suit.
A few hours later, the HPCSA issued a retraction and apology, which News24 published. You magazine deleted the report from its site and on Twitter.
The damage was already done of course. And by that time, social media had spread the message of Noakes’ alleged “guilt” across the planet.
Twitter and Facebook went into overdrive with premature messages of consolation to Noakes. Banters declared outrage at the HPCSA for daring to find against him. And his critics and Twitter trolls were gleeful.
So is the HPCSA indulging in wishful thinking in its trial of Noakes? Is it just plain incompetent – or worse? It will be interesting to find out exactly who wrote the HPCSA press release. And if the HPCSA holds anyone responsible.