Appeal Decision: Kruger Anton vs The Village News and Hermanus Times


Tue, Oct 13, 2020

BEFORE THE APPEL PANEL OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN PRESS COUNCIL

In the matter between

KRUGER ANTON                                                                                               APPLICANT

AND

THE VILAGE NEWS                                                                                      RESPONDENT

AND

KRUGER ANTON                                                                                               APPLICANT

AND

HERMANUS TIMES                                                                                      RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 8213/07/2020 AND 2814/07/2020

              DECISION ON AN APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

  1. Mr Anton Kruger (“applicant”) lodged a complaint against the Village News (“first respondent”) and Hermanus Times (“second respondent”). The complaints related to the articles published by the respondents and which dealt with the same issue; namely, a report by an independent investigator, Adv Pieter-Schalk Botha, which cleared the Municipal Manager, Mr Coenraad Groenewald, of allegations of misconduct. In her Ruling dated 4 September 2020, the Ombud dealt with the two complaints as one: “These two complaints are closely related and deal with principally the same issue and similar stories. Hence I am going to deal with them simultaneously”. I do the same. As the Ombud states, the applicant’s complaint was that in their respective articles the respondents’ stories neither he nor his organization (“Libertas”) were contacted for comment; after all, it was their complaint that led to the investigation by the advocate. He also says that the articles were biased, misleading and factually inaccurate.
  2. The Public Advocate declined to adjudicate the complaints as, in his view, they did not show any prima facie breach of the Press Code. The matter was then escalated to the Press Ombud; she too found no prima facie breach of the Code, hence this application. For me to grant leave to appeal, an applicant must show reasonable prospects of success before the Appeal Panel. I must therefore proceed to access that.
  3. Both the Public Advocate and the Ombud were at pains to explain to the applicant why the complaints could not stand. As the Ombud indicated, “both articles were simply reporting the contents of an official report by an investigator appointed by Council in response to the complaint laid against Mr Groenewald by Mr Kruger and his organization.” It is also important to note that the applicant’s complaint that triggered the investigation was mentioned in the stories. There was no need to contact the applicant for comment as the stories were commenting on a report by the investigator. It is also noteworthy that in the course of his investigation, the investigator tried several times to meet with the applicant without success.
  4. I do not agree with the points raised by or on behalf of Mr Kruger in the notice of appeal. Firstly, the Ruling of the Public Advocate and the Ombud are written in simple language without any legalese; in fact none of them is a lawyer as far as I can tell. Secondly, the points raised do not speak to two critical points: that the articles were based solely on an official report commissioned by the Council; nor does Mr Kruger explain satisfactorily why he failed to meet with the investigator.
  5. Mr Kruger is barking up a wrong tree. If he is not happy with the investigator’s report in absolving Mr Coenraad Groenewald of any blame, he should challenge the report; instead, he wants to shoot the messenger: as the report was an official document of the Council, the media were entitled to write about it, be it before or after the Council’s meeting; documents are regularly leaked to the media all the time.
  6. For the reasons given above, including those by the Public Advocate and the Ombud, the application has no reasonable prospects of success; it is accordingly dismissed.

Dated this 13th day of October 2020

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel