Press Council Director’s Report
SANEF Council Meeting
February 16, 2013
We now have revamped the Press Council and Panel of Adjudicators, thanks largely to the sterling work of the Appointments Panel, chaired by retired Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro. The other members of the panel were Ina du Bruyn and Clyde Broster, two members of the council who did not apply for reappointment, and the press representatives were Raymond Louw and Mahmood Sanglay.
On January 30 the Appointments Panel announced the names of the people in the new structure, who would assume office on February 1:
Judge Phillip Levisohn, formerly of the South Gauteng High Court, is chair of the Press Council, while Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, formerly of the North and South Gauteng High Court, chairs the Panel of Adjudicators.
In addition to Judge Levinsohn, the members of the new council are: Dr Peter Coetzee, Mike Lenaghan, Judge Ralph Zulman, formerly of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Prince Mkhonza, Joe Seremane and Huida Shenker – public representatives; and Raymond Louw, Amina Frense, Louise Vale, Graeme Campbell, Mondli Makhanya and Zelda Jongbloed – press representatives.
In addition to Judge President Ngoepe, the following are the members of the Panel of Adjudicators: Lindsay Clowes, Simphiwe Sesanti, Neville Woudberg, Philip van der Merwe, Peter Mann, Brian Gibson, Carol Mohlala, and Ntsikelelo Sandi – public representatives; Susan Smuts, Henry Jeffreys, Sanglay Mahmood, Fanie Groenewald, Franz Kruger, Nic Dawes – press representatives.
SANEF did warn is that their four representatives – Raymond Louw, Amina Frense, Franz Kruger and Nic Dawes – could still be changed as the final word had to come out of this council meeting today.
PDMSA representation also has to be finalised and reflected in an amended constitution that reflects the merger of the Magazine Publishers Association and PDMSA and the proposed “strategic partnership” between PDMSA and the Digital Media and Marketing Association.
The new Council and the Panel of Adjudicators will hold their first meeting on March 18.
The structure, functioning and location of the office have also changed radically on February 1. The old job of Press Ombudsman has now been split into three: the Director in the Press Council, the Ombudsman, and the Public Advocate. Latiefa Mobara, former SANEF Executive Director, is the Public Advocate, Johan Retief, the new Press Ombudsman, and I have been appointed as Director.
I “lead the PCSA on a full-time, professional basis and concentrate on public engagement regarding issues of ethical journalism and media freedom”.
Johan adjudicates in “matters that cannot be resolved at the earlier level of mediation”.
Latiefa assists “members of the public to formulate their complaints, attempts to resolve complaints amicably by liaising directly with the publication on behalf of the complainant” and “may represent the complainant before the Ombudsman and/or the Appeals Panel”.
We will be watching the volume of work before deciding on the appointment of deputies for these positions.
In the next few days, we will be asking editors to amend the notices about the Ombudsman’s office on their pages to reflect the new structure.
In addition to the new structure, we also relocated to the 3rd Floor, 9 St David’s Park, St David’s Place, Parktown – the building next to the one where we were located before. The move was in line with the recommendations of the Press Council Review and the Press Freedom Commission that we physically separate ourselves from Print and Digital Media South Africa. The move was quite taxing and for a while we didn’t have telephones, the internet and printers. We are still surrounded by boxes but the new premises are quite comfortable.
In my new capacity, I intend to visit as many newsrooms as possible in the coming few months to talk about the Press Code, ethics, standards and developing vigilant gatekeeping systems. (As usual Times Ltd, were the first to jump in this year when they invited me to address their new cadets and older staff on the new Press Code on January 23. I hope I will get many more invitations after this council meeting.)
I will also be talking to South Africans about the new structures and what they mean for them. The public have to be our first defence against any threats to press freedom.
On Monday I meet with the chairperson of the Communications Portfolio Committee, Mr Eric Kholwana, to explore what he proposes to do with the recommendations from the ANC’s Mangaung conference to hold a Parliamentary inquiry into the creation of a Media Appeals Tribunal.
From ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s report to the Mangaung conference, the ANC has welcomed the outcomes of our reviews, but the it nevertheless wants to go ahead with the inquiry. (It was interesting to see Mantashe in his report on our review commit the same “sin” he normally accuses the media of committing: distorting facts – he says the PFC was appointed because of the outcry from the public about the Press Council’s Review.)
· From November 26 to December 30 I visited Rwanda to talk at their Annual National Dialogue on Media Development, a follow-up to my earlier visit to that country. The African Editors Forum was also holding a parallel meeting at the same venue.
· Two officials of the Zimbabwe Editors Forum, who were SANEF’s guests, also spent some time in the office. They indicated that there have bee huge strides in implementing a system of self-regulation in that country.
· We are awaiting two reports in the next few weeks on the work of the Press Council – the first a master’s thesis from Gloria Edwards at the North West University’s Potchefstroom Campus and the other a joint effort by the University of SA and Rhodes University.
Memorandum of Incorporation
Work on this was halted because of the uncertainty of the review. The new council will complete the process now that there is clarity about the way forward.
Some of you might have noticed that since the beginning of February, you now get complaints coming through Latiefa in her capacity as Public Advocate. Her responsibility is to champion the cause of the complainants and try and resolve complaints amicably with the editor within 15 days of getting them.
10 November 2012 – 11 February 2013
Number of complaints:
· 10 November 2012 – 11 February 2013: 51
· so far this year: 20
· in 2012: 285
· in 2011: 256
· in 2010: 212
· in 2009: 151
· in 2008: 126
Number of findings published on the internet in 2012: 80
And in 2011: 65
Findings 10 November 2012 – 11 February 2013:
1. The City of Johannesburg complained about a story in The Star on 24 May 2012, headlined Council says it will sort out billing crisis in 5 weeks – Ratepayers to feel the pinch when new tax year starts in July. The newspaper was directed to apologise for misrepresenting and distorting its affidavit, falsely stating it as fact that it acted illegally regarding a “billing crisis” by not considering itself to be bound by its own by-laws. It was also reprimanded for omitting to state that a court order was the product of an agreement between the parties, and cautioned not to take stories as gospel merely because they were published – it should independently verify information that is likely to cause somebody unnecessary harm. The newspaper applied for leave to appeal.
2. Director General of the Department of Public Enterprise Tshediso Matona complained about an opinion article in the Sunday Times on 7 October 2012 and headlined Crooked gang in love with the bling. The newspaper was directed to apologise to him for not basing its column on facts, which lead to some misleading, unreasonable, negligent, unjustifiable and unfair text (regarding various matters).
3. Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula complained about six stories in The New Age. The complaint about five of these stories was dismissed. The newspaper was directed to apologise to Mbalula for reporting that “a web of lies continued to flow from the (his) department’s spin doctor…”; and also to apologise for the headline that read: Lies, lies and more lies – Web of deceit after Mbalula’s London trip (the use of the word “lies” in both the story and the headline was inaccurate and an exaggeration).
4. Athletics official Celi Makhoba complained about a story in The Witness on 28 June 2012 and headlined Official’s suspension casts doubt on Comrades doping tests. The newspaper was reprimanded for not asking him for comment. The rest of the complaint was dismissed.
5. Cope complained about a story in the 13 - 19 August 2012 edition of the Northern Cape Times (NC Times) and headlined Fred and Sarah an item? on the front page. The story continued on page 2, headlined Are Fred Wyngaardt and Sarah Evans of the DFA an item? The newspaper was directed to apologise profusely to (Fred) Wyngaardt and (Sarah) Evans for unfairly planting the seed of an “affair” in the public’s mind without any journalistic substance to do this, and for cropping the pictures such that it created the impression that they were alone together and that there might have been such a basis.
6. Ms Vathiswa Mgolombane complained about a page 3 story in City Vision on 19 July 2012 and headlined Death complicates dispute over ownership. The newspaper was directed to unreservedly apologise to Mgolombane and her father for publishing an unfair story which resulted from not obtaining comment from them.
7. Former spokesperson of the Ministry of Education Douglas Mthukwane complained about a story in the Diamond Fields Advertiser on 28 August 2012 and headlined ‘A rapist is like lightning’. The complaint that the story sought to instigate a kangaroo court verdict, that the article was racist, and that the reporter did not ask for comment was dismissed.
8. The Nu-Shifa Hospital complained about a story on page 3 in Overport Sun on 14 August 2012 and headlined Nurse drops newborn baby at Nu-Shifa Hospital. The newspaper was directed to apologise to the hospital’s management for unfairly reporting sources’ baseless allegations that it would have hidden the matter had the father not been present when a nurse dropped his baby. The rest of the complaint was dismissed.
9. Businessman Phosane Mngqibisa complained about a front page story in the Sunday Times on 2 September 2012 and headlined Pule’s flights of fancy with boyfriend revealed. The story continued to page 2 under the headline Minister and friend were frequent flyers. He said that the newspaper had illegally obtained the information about his travel arrangements from a department official, that it had published his private information in the absence of a public interest or of his consent, that it had ascribed wrongdoing to him for having undertaken business trips as a part of the business delegation of the government, and for falsely imputing the coincidence of his travel with the alleged accusation of romance. The complaint was dismissed.
10. The DA complained about two stories in The Star on 16 October 2012 and headlined Zille doesn’t want a black DA – Coetzee. The strapline on the front page said: Sources say Ryan Coetzee (picture), a former Democratic Alliance strategist, left the party when he realised that Helen Zille was not committed to transformation and to attracting black leaders to its ranks. The sources went on to say that Zille’s “refugee” remarks had also made Coetzee’s job difficult. The Star was directed to correct the headline and to apologise to the DA for causing it unnecessary harm. The complaint about anonymous sources was dismissed.
11. Ms Renette du Plessis of the Hervormde Kerk complained about a story in Beeld on 31 July 2012 and headlined Hervormde Kerk eis sy geboue terug. The newspaper was cautioned for publishing inaccurate information. The complaint about not having been asked for comment was dismissed. Beeld applied for leave to appeal.
12. Mr P.B. Soobrayan, Director-General of Basic Education complained about a front page story in The New Age on 6 August 2012, headlined Textbooks: DG must go. The newspaper did not have a Presidential report at its disposal at the time of publication, and therefore relied on their sources. The newspaper was directed to apologise for incorrectly linking him to EduSolutions, for unfairly stating that he refused to carry out instructions, and for incorrectly stating that he was married and therefore had a mother-in-law. TNA was also asked to publish a story on the Presidential report which became available after the publication of the story.
13. Deputy-Director General of the Inner-City Regeneration at the Department of Public Works Rachard Samuel complained about a story in the Sunday Independent on 7 October 2012 and headlined Another official guilty of bursaries for leases. The newspaper was reprimanded for publishing the wrong reason as the basis for the findings against Samuels and for omitting to mention that he was not found guilty on all charges. The complaint about having been charged for accepting bribes was dismissed.
14. The New Age complained about a story in the Sunday Times on 7 October 2012 and headlined SABC looting laid bare. The newspaper said that the story erroneously linked the Gupta family and Howa with “looting” at the SABC, that the story omitted to report on key elements of the strategic alliance regarding the SABC’s Morning Live show, that the reference to its subscriptions lacked context, that the allegation that the SABC paid it R147 251 for publishing advertorials was incorrect, that the use of the words “a benefactor of Zuma” was inappropriate, that the newspaper did not ask it for information, and that the “continuous barrage of poor journalism from the Sundays Times” resulted in a misconception that made it difficult for them generate revenue. The complaint was dismissed in its entirety.
15. Entrepreneur David Malibu complained about a story in The City Press on 30 September 2012 and headlined Malema: the endgame? SA’s top 10 tenderpreneurs. Malibu objected that the story incorrectly referred to him as a tenderpreneur. The newspaper was directed to explain, with the necessary evidence, why it called Malibu a tenderpreneur – failing which it should apologise to him for doing so.
16. Mr Don Mkhwanazi complains about a story in the Sunday Times on 17 June 2012 and headlined ‘Connected’ Don gets deal. He said that the headline falsely stated that he was awarded a tender, that the story wrongly insinuated that there was a corrupt relationship between himself and President Jacob Zuma, and that the journalist neglected to report his response to questions. The newspaper had adequately addressed one issue; the rest of the complaint was dismissed.
17. The Noordhoek Environmental Action Group (NEAG) complained about a column on page 8 in The People’s Post on 24 April 2012, headlined Now bunny-huggers want to kill squirrels. The newspaper was directed to apologise to NEAG and its members and associates for incorrectly stating it as fact that it wanted to kill squirrels and indiscriminately cut down oak trees, and for misleadingly stating it as fact in the headline that it wanted to kill squirrels. Three other parts of the complaint were dismissed.
18. Marketing manager of the Orphanage cocktail bar, Ms Katie Friedman, complained about a front page story in the Cape Towner on 4 October 2012 headlined Bree Street battles – Strong objections to Orphanage’s plans to expand. This story followed on to the next page, headlined City centre residents shouldn’t complain about noise, says bar manager. She complained that the story misquoted her, and that the second headline was therefore misleading. The complaint was dismissed.
19. School principal Nicky Hand complained about a story in Sondag on 5 August 2012 and headlined Was hoof se Hand in koekieblik? He also complained about a story that was meant to correct the first one (on 9 September, headlined Die kat kom weer – Hoof briesend oor sy onregverdige skorsing). The newspaper was directed to apologise to Hand for publishing a defamatory statement, ascribed to a malicious source (by the reporter’s own admission). The newspaper was also seriously reprimanded because the reporter did not verify the allegation about theft, neglected to mention this in the story, because she was misled by this source, and created a false impression that the newspaper spoke directly with a spokesperson.
20. The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) complained about a story in The Times on 8 August 2012 and headlined MPs: medical parole a sham. The newspaper was reprimanded for not mentioning all the reasons why the authorities decided to release former head of Police Jacki Selebi on medical parole. Two other parts of the complaint were dismissed.
21. Attorney Stafford Geduld complained about a story in The Herald on 18 June 2012 and headlined Law firm’s R1,5 m accident claim bungle. His complaint amounted to 13 sub-divisions. At a hearing, held in Port Elizabeth, he withdrew his complaint. The two parties agreed that the newspaper would publish a follow-up story that would include his views.
22. The ANC (Eastern Cape) complained about three article in the Sunday Times on 15 April 2012 and headlined: ‘Power put before pupils’; As Zuma woos support, Eastern Cape suffers (editorial comment); and When education takes a back seat to politics (review article). It complained that the headline did not reasonably reflect the content of the story, that the statement that Pres Jacob Zuma was placing personal ambitions ahead of thousands of school children in the Eastern Cape was unsubstantiated; that the story omitted comment from two people whom the newspaper had interviewed, and that the two opinion articles merely perpetuated the unethical (first) story. The complaint was dismissed. The ANC was urged to consider the Sunday Times’ offer to publish a letter by them. The ANC applied for leave to appeal.
23. The ANC (Eastern Cape) complained about a similar story in the Daily Dispatch. An informal meeting was held in East London, a finding was made and the newspaper applied for leave to appeal on procedural grounds. This appeal was upheld. The matter has since been aborted.