Appeal Decision: Weekend Post vs Role Models Foundation

Mon, Nov 20, 2017

In the matter between

WEEKEND POST                                                                                               APPLICANT



                                                                                      Matter Number 3299/05/2017


1.         Weekend Post (“applicant”) seeks leave to appeal a Ruling of the Press Ombud dated 31 July 2017.  The Ruling was on a complaint by Mr Alwyn Smit acting on behalf of RoleModels Foundation (“respondent”).  The complaint was against a story published by the applicant in its edition of 6 May 2017, with the headline: “Secrecy over pageant cash – Irate Mrs PE entrants want to know what happened to the thousands they collected”.  In a separate box was a response by Mr Smit’s wife headlined “Those complaining ‘unhappy they lost’”.  As the headings suggest, the story was about what had happened, or not happened, to the proceeds collected at a pageant contest.  One of the underlining themes was that money collected was not expended in line with the objective professed; in particular, that whereas the impression was created that the money would be spent on a large number of (school) beneficiaries it was in fact meant for only a selected few.  RoleModels Foundation, a non-profit organization, which was staging the event for the purpose of raising funds, disputed the above allegation that there were only a few selected beneficiaries schools in Port Elizabeth.  Some of the allegations made in the story were that the money raised was shrouded in secrecy; that Mr Smit and his wife were asked to account for in terms of thousands of rands; that there was lack of transparency dating back many years. There was no official handover of funds nor was it made known how much had been raised.  It appeared that the RoleModels Foundation was a project run by Mr Smit and his wife.

2.          The complaints were summarized by the Ombud in his Ruling as including:

2.1    that the article aimed to discredit RMF;

2.2    journalist entered the premises of the Infundo school (sponsored by RMF) under false pretences;

2.3    RMS’s response was not adequately reported on;

2.4    that the report was bias, unfair and malicious;

2.5    the headline added to the misleading reporting.

3.         The Ombud dismissed all the complaints, but one.  The Ombud sums up his finding as follows with regard to the complaint upheld:

The complaint that the story created a wrong impression that RMF was raising funds for impoverished children and schools only, while it was doing so for the NPO (ie. the whole organization) in general, is upheld as such an omission was material and would have helped to bring the necessary balance and context to the story”.  He found that the omission was in breach of section 1.2 of the Code which demands that news be presented in a balanced manner.  He ordered an apology in the form he indicated.

4.         For this application to succeed, the applicant must show reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel.  Before dealing with this, some explanation is required why the application is only being disposed of now when the Ombuds Ruling was given at the end of July.  After the application was submitted to me in August, the respondent made a formal request to introduce what it described as new evidence.  I directed that the evidence be submitted to the applicant for comment.  That was done.  The applicant opposed the introduction of the additional evidence on various grounds. I have looked at the evidence.  There is no adequate explanation why the evidence was not submitted prior to Ombud’s Ruling.  The latter had actually gone out of his way to an opportunity to each party to present its case. There is also merit in the applicant’s argument that the supposed “new” evidence is not new at all.  For these reasons, the application to bring in the supposed new evidence at this stage is turned down. I must therefore proceed to consider the application without such “new” evidence.

5.         In assessing the applicant’s prospects of success, I have had regard to the submissions by the parties.  I am struck by the effort and time invested by the Ombud in dealing with this matter, as well as his painstaking analysis of the issues.  As the Ombud says, the impression that the proceeds were, as stated by the applicant, only for the Infundo school in Port Elizabeth, as opposed to all the respondent’s projects throughout the country, was contered by other considerations. After engaging in some balancing exercise, the Ombud gave the benefit of doubt to the respondent. The decision arrived at after that kind of  exercise woild not be easily interfered with by a higher tribunal; especially as the Ombud had the opportunity to engage face to face with a number of the individuals concerned.  He has had the benefit of direct interaction.

6.         I am therefore of the view that for all the reasons given above, the applicant has no reasonable prospects of success.  The application is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 20th day of November 2017

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel