screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-7-49-51-amBy Marika Sboros

The Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) released a press release today saying it found Prof Tim Noakes guilty of unprofessional conduct.

That’s not possible, of course, since the case against him has not concluded. The HPCSA’s  Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) that is hearing 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, Pretoria advocate Joan Adams, has issued a tightly worded, clearly irate statement. She said that the HPCSA’s press release is “devoid of all truth”. Noakes’ lawyer Adam Pike said much the same thing on radio.  Pike also announced that Noakes is considering legal action against the HPCSA.

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.

Advocate Joan Adams

Advocate Joan Adams

‘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:

1. This is devoid of all truth;
2. The PCC distances itself from such press report;
3. The PCC will deliberate in April 2017 after hearing argument; and
4. Judgment will be delivered on 21 April 2017 (after hearing argument on 4 and 5 April 2017)’.”

It is interesting how this misrepresentation of the facts has unfolded. The HPCSA’s press release on the matter makes no sense if you bother to read the whole thing. It was on its website for a short while, then disappeared.

It starts off saying it has found Noakes guilty of unprofessional conduct. The HPCSA gives the charge against him. These include 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 of the release says something completely different is anyone’s guess.

News media picked up the release, didn’t do any fact-checking and ran with the “story”. I use that word advisedly in this case. It was, after all, pure fiction.

Thereafter, headlines were quick and click-bait splashy. News24 announced: Noakes guilty of unprofessional conduct. It later added: says HPCSA. You magazine and other media followed suit.

Then the HPCSA issued a retraction and apology, which News24 published.And You magazine deleted the report from its site and on Twitter.

But the damage was quickly done. And social media did what it does best: 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 of course, the trolls were gleeful.

Undoing all that will take some time.

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.