Appeal Decision: John C McConnachie vs Weekend Post

Mon, Mar 4, 2019

In the matter between

JOHN C McCONNACHIE                                                         APPLICANT


WEEKEND POST et al                                                        RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 3929/07/2018


1.        The applicant Mr John C McConnachie lodged a complaint against Weekend Post and other newspapers (“the respondents”).  His complaint, as put by the Ombud in his Ruling dated 8 October 2018, is that “various newspapers in the Tiso Blackstar group, including the Weekend Post, are prematurely calling the city of Grahamstown by the name of ‘Makhanda’”.

2.        It is common cause that on 29 June 2018 the Minister of Arts and Culture published a Notice in the Government Gazette that the name of the city Grahamstown was changed to “Makhanda”.  Thereafter the respondent and other media referred to the city as “Makhanda”.  The applicant’s case is that the announcement in the Notice of the change of the name was invalid because certain legal prerequisites had not been met; eg that no reference was made to the procedure in terms of Section 110 of Act 118 of 1998 or that there has been compliance with it.  The applicant was one of the group, known as “Keep Grahamstown Grahamstown” which campaigned against the change of the name.  His complaint was that despite their effort to point out that calling Grahamstown “Makhanda” was premature, the respondent and other media persisted.  Such a practice, he complained, established the name in people’s minds prematurely and was anticipating the outcome of a process that was still to unfold.

3.        The respondent’s reply was that for as long as the Notice stood, they would use the new name until the process was reversed.

4.        In his Ruling, the Ombud said that he would not be made to make a ruling on the two arguments; this was a legal exercise falling out of his mandate and indeed, that of the Press Code.  In his application for leave to appeal, it is even more clear that this is exactly what the applicant wanted the Ombud to do: “It is submitted that all the Press Ombud was required to do was to consider whether or not the legal effect of the Notice as gazetted … was final as was reported by the newspapers …”. Well, the respondent says as far as the media were concerned, the notice was valid and final; on the other hand, the applicant says it was not because certain legal requirements were not met.  Would resolving this debate not result in the Ombud making a ruling on the legal status of the city, as he points out?

5.        The Ombud is correct. The media cannot go beyond what is apparent on the face of a gazetted Government Notice.  The applicant’s remedy lay elsewhere.

6.        The application is therefore dismissed for lack of reasonable prospects before the Appeals Panel.

Dated this 4th day of March 2019.

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel