Appeal Decision: Zibele Limani and KSD Municipality vs Daily Dispatch

Tue, Mar 13, 2018

In the matter between

ZIBELE LIMANI and KSD MUNICIPALITY                                                   APPLICANT


DAILY DISPATCH                                                                                         RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 3608/12/2017


1.         Mr Zibele Limani, (“applicant”) as the Acting Communication Head of the King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality brought a complaint against the Daily Dispatch (“respondent”) in respect of a story which appeared in the respondent's edition of 29 November 2017, with the headline: “Ratepayers accuse KSD of ambush”.  The subhead read, “3600 residents in arrears to buy electricity”. The story was, briefly, about the prevention of ratepayers who were in arrears, from buying electricity; apparently they were in arrears for the payment of rates and services.  The complaint was dismissed by the Press Ombud in his Ruling dated 11 January 2018.

2.         In his Ruling, the Ombud captured the complaint as follows:

Limani complains that the journalist has:

·                Misquoted him in the sentence which read, ‘KSD has denied blocking accounts, and … Limani yesterday blamed a ‘glitch’ in the system’; and

·                Mischievously referred to the KSD municipality as ‘cash-trapped’ (the word used in the story was ‘cash-strapped’).

He concludes that the reportage was aimed at causing a division between the KSD and local residents, and asks for a retraction and a correction.”

From what I gather, the applicant’s other complaint is that the article wrongly stated that he said that people’s accounts should not have been blocked.  He says he cant have denied the blocking of accounts as that was allowed by in terms of the municipal policy.  He says: “I didn’t say Blocking of Accounts shouldn’t have happened, I said delays happened when we were capturing those people who have made arrangements and have their accounts up to date hence I said they must bring the proof of payment to the Municipality so that they get their accounts updated.  I further said some made arrangements and defaulted to pay current monthly payments and that makes the ratepayer to be in arrears again hence the blocking of account.  Blocking of accounts is contained in our Credit Control Policy which has been approved by Council.  So it is unfathomable of me to deny a programme which has the blessings of Council.”

3.         The applicant objects strongly against the statement in the article that the “blocking” of accounts was as a result of “glitches”.  In this respect, it is to be noted that the journalist conceded that he was the one who used the word “glitches”.  He says, however, that the applicant did not object when he used it several times. I don’t know whether the duty fell on the applicant to object, when he went out of his way to explain fully what happened.

4.         Having looked at the Ruling by the Ombud, I am inclined to grant leave to applicant to appeal.  That being the case, I do not wish to go into the merits of the case. I merely state briefly what influenced me.

4.1      The Ombud has issued out what is a really a sanction, aimed at correcting the situation.

4.2      The Ruling finds it appropriate to afford the applicant a right of reply.

4.3      Although the Ruling finds no breach of the Press Code, a sanction is the consequence of a breach; so too the directive that a complainant be given a right of reply.

5.         In light of all the above, I hold that there are reasonable prospects that the applicant may succeed before the Appeals Panel.  Leave to appeal is therefore granted.

Dated this 13th day of March 2018

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel