Appeal Decision: Jane Abongdia vs Daily Dispatch

Mon, Sep 17, 2018


In the matter between:

JANE ABONGDIA                                                                                               APPLICANT


DAILY DISPATCH                                                                                         RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 3818/05/2018


1.         Daily Dispatch (“respondent”) published a story on 30 November 2017 with the headline “R3m demand for plagiarised publication.” The story was based on an claim by one Nomalizo Mazwayi that Jane Abongadia (“applicant”) had published an academic article in which she had plagiarised from Mazwayi’s work.  The latter was a Masters student under the supervision of the applicant. The story went on to say that Mazwayi had served summons for the payment of R3m against the applicant and the university concerned (the University of Fort Hare). The applicant lodged a complaint against the respondent on the ground, inter alia, that the story was biased

2.         The applicant’s compaint is accurately summed up by the Ombud in his Ruling dated 12 July 2018.  She says the

l     statement that a university tribunal has found her guilty of plagiarism after she had admitted to it was untrue and unfair;

l       the story omitted to state that the university … has exonerated her; and

l       the journalist was biased, as the article did not contain her side of the story.”

3.         In its defence, the respondent insisted that it had obtained the information from the university spokesperson who, amongst others, said that the applicant had admitted plagiarizing, and even apologized to Ms Mazwayi. This was, of course, contrary to the applicant’s case that she denied doing so, and that she was exonerated by a special committee of the university. The respondent therefore refused to remove the story.

4.         The Ombud asked for, and obtained, a copy of the particulars to Ms Mazwayi’s combined summons; which confirmed that Ms Mazwayi had taken legal action against the applicant and others.  It became clear to him that the reportage was accurate and justified.  I also add that it is important to note that the university’s spokesperson confirmed that the applicant admitted to the said infraction.

5.         In her application, the applicant argues that the Ombud erred by “rejecting the complaint based soleley on the contents of the documentation obtained from the university without affording the complainant the opportunity to consider the contents of the documentation and responding whether the contents of the dcoumentation are true and correct”. Firstly, the documents speak for themselves; secondly, the issue is not whether the contents are true or not.  Journalists report on court documents as they find them.  The big problem for the applicant remains what the university spokesperson said to the journalist.

6.         It is clear that the applicant has no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel; the application is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 12th day of September 2018

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel