ZCC vs Sunday World

Wed, Jan 17, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

17 January 2018

This complaint was lodged out of time.

The facts

These are the facts:

·         The original story was published on September 17;

·         Sunday World published a correction / apology in its very next edition (September 24);

·         The complaint against the correction / apology was lodged on November 22; and

·         According to Section 1.3 of the Complaints Procedures, the cut-off date for a complaint was on October 20.

The same section allows me to condone a late complaint if there is “a good and satisfactory explanation for the delay”.

That is what I now need to decide upon.

The arguments

The ZCC asks this office to condone the late filing of the complaint on the following grounds:

·         Its initial reaction was to direct its members not to buy the Sunday World and any titles published under Tiso Blackstar – a message which was conveyed to its members on September 16 (it was dated on that day, while the publication was in fact on September 17);

·         It was not satisfied with the correction / apology, and on November 5 it called for a boycott of Tiso Blackstar titles;

·         Following consultation within the church and with its advisors, it was decided to lodge a formal complaint with this office; and

·         It is in the interests of both parties that this compliant be adjudicated in terms of the Press Code, with the view to avoid costly and protracted litigation.

Smuts objects, saying that the ZCC raised its concerns immediately with regards to the original story, adding that it was also aware of the apology.

She argues that:

·         the church could have pursued a complaint before this office, while at the same time electing to boycott the newspaper;

·         there was no justification for the delay; and

·         the complaint should be rejected on the grounds that it is out of time.

My considerations

In such cases, I usually take into account a complainant’s efforts to settle the matter with a newspaper prior to lodging a complaint – if any.

However, I have no correspondence to suggest that, between September 24 (the date on which the offending text was published) and November 22 (the date a complaint was lodged with this office) the ZCC has taken up the matter with either the newspaper or this office.

(I note that a meeting between representatives of the SCC and the Public Advocate took place on December 14, but that was after the complaint had been lodged.)

I have been given no satisfactory reason to grant ZCC’s request, while also adhering to the Complaints Procedures.

My decision

The complaint is therefore dismissed on the grounds that it was lodged out of time (more than a month), and without any satisfactory explanation for the delay.

While I would have preferred to adjudicate this complaint, I cannot ignore my own rules to satisfy my own preferences.

Application for leave to 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