Jock McConnachie vs. Weekend Post et al


Mon, Oct 8, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

8 October 2018

Complaint                                            

Mr Jock McConnachie complains that various newspapers in the Tiso Blackstar group, including the Weekend Post, are prematurely calling the city of Grahamstown by the name of “Makhanda”.

The arguments

McCONNACHIE says that on 29 June this year Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa published a Notice in the Government Gazette announcing the change of Grahamstown’s name to that of Makhanda.

He says since then it has been widely reported, particularly by newspapers in the Tiso Blackstar Group as well as by SABC News that the effect of the Notice is that the name has already changed – which is not the case.

He explains that, in terms of Section 110 of Act 118 of 1998, the Minister can only make a final decision on the matter after he has considered any comments / objections received within one month after the publication of the Notice.

McConnachie says the movement Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown has attempted to correct the wrong message that is being communicated about the effect of the Notice. The movement is also pointing out that the Notice itself was defective in that it has failed to advise members of the public about the provisions of the relevant section of the Act which gives people the right to comment / object to the proposed name change.

He says The Herald and the Daily Dispatch have published the movement’s comments, and they have also been interviewed on SABC News about the matter – and yet the media persist in referring to Grahamstown as Makhanda. Even the weather maps on SABC TV channels since 29 June use Makhanda, instead of Grahamstown, he adds.

“This is having the effect of establishing the name in people’s minds prematurely and is anticipating the outcome of a process which is still in progress. The Ombudsman is requested to make a ruling on the matter which is applicable to all SA media,” he requests.

NWABISA MAKUNGA, editor of the Weekend Post, agrees that Mthethwa has published a Notice in the Government Gazette that the name “Grahamstown” had changed to “Makhanda”.

He adds that Mthethwa has explained the process followed which ultimately led to the changing of the name – this, as well as McConnachie’s objections to the legality of the name change process, were reported.

He remarks: “Notwithstanding the unfolding challenge to the legality of the process – which is duly being reported on – the name has been gazetted and thus used accordingly by the newspaper. Should the unfolding challenge ultimately result in the Makhanda name being overturned by government, this newspaper will report on and oblige with such a decision accordingly.”

McCONNACHIE replies Makunga does not refer to the provisions of Section 10 of Act 118 of 1998, as indicated above. 

He says: “[The media are] disregarding the legal position, namely that the name of Grahamstown … is still Grahamstown until such time as the Minister has considered complaints/objections and arrived at a final decision with reasons… By so doing the newspapers and the newspaper group in question is perpetuating a false and wrong impression that is being given to the public contrary to law and we request that the newspapers and newspaper group should be directed to desist from continuing to do so.”

Analysis

There are two ways of looking at this matter, as evidenced above. McConnachie is asking me to choose one over the other, and to pronounce on the legal status of a city’s name.

I do not believe that the Press Council, as an institution of (media) ethics, is mandated – or qualified – to make such a decision.

As for myself, I am comfortable for the media to use the name “Makhanda”, given that this name was gazetted – until such time as this decision is overturned (if indeed that is to happen).

Also please note that the mandate of this office does not extend to television and broadcasting – the BCCSA is responsible for those platforms.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombud