Appeal Decision: Leonard Ramatlakane vs Sunday Times/TimesLive


Mon, Aug 1, 2022

BEFORE THE APPEALS PANEL OF THE PRESS COUNCIL OF SOUTH AFRICA

In the matter between:

Leonard Ramatlakane                                                                                              Applicant

and

Sunday Times/TimesLive                                                                                   Respondent

                                                                                                            Matter No: 9443

DECISION ON AN APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

  1. This is an application by Mr Leonard Ramatlakane (applicant) for leave to appeal the Ruling of the Deputy Press Ombud dated 16 May 2022. The Ruling dismissed applicant’s complaint against the Sunday Times/TimesLive (respondent) in respect of an article that was published by the respondent on 20 February 2022, with the headline: “Mbalula accused Prasa board chair of self-enrichment scheme.”
  2. In his Ruling, the Deputy Ombud correctly stated that the complaint was that the respondent breached Clause 1.8 of the Code, which prescribes that the “media shall seek, if practicable, the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication …”. When asked for comment on certain WhatsApp messages, the appellant had responded: “I don’t know anything about that, the best people to answer are the people who were exchanging text messages. I can’t speculate. I don’t know, nor can I answer questions about things I was never involved in.” The applicant was to later argue that he did not know that he was referred to in the WhatsApp messages concerned. To cut to the chase, the Ruling in effect found that the applicant ought to have been aware of the contents of those WhatsApp messages, and that they referred to him; therefore, he had been afforded the opportunity to state his response but failed to do so. The complaint was therefore dismissed.
  3. The Ruling, dated 16 May 2022, was received by the parties on 17 May 2022. On 15 June 2022 the applicant filed his notice of appeal. This translated into the appeal having been filed 14 days outside of the 7 working days prescribed by the Code. Conscious of the fact that the appeal was noted out of time, the applicant filed an application for the condonation of his late filing of the notice to appeal. The application for the condonation, as also the application for leave, are opposed by the respondent.
  4. In his explanation for the delay in filing the notice of appeal timeously, the applicant, in a nutshell, says that he was awaiting some developments in a related review application which PRASA, of which the applicant was chair of the Board, had launched in the High Court. He says the following: “The review proceedings, particularly the availability of the complete record of proceedings, forms the basis of the late filing of the application for leave to appeal …”. What then followed was the applicant’s attempt to link the unavailability of the complete record forming the subject matter of the review on the one hand and his complaint to the Press Ombud on the other hand. I have perused the explanation. There is simply no link between the two which justifies the delay; nothing prevented the applicant from filing his notice of appeal; after all, the Deputy Ombud’s Ruling was not part of the subject matter of the review proceedings. If there was any such link, the appellant has failed to adequately articulate it. In this respect, the respondent, in opposing the condonation, says, inter alia, the following: “No explanation (was given) as to why an intention to seek leave to appeal could (not) simply have been noted on correspondence addressed to the public advocate explaining the supposed necessity of waiting for the transcript (of the proceedings to be reviewed)”. To date, there is no such explanation.
  5.  The period of 14 days is rather long. The longer the period of delay, the stronger the explanation ought to be; there is none. There is no need for me to look at the merits of the appeal as the applicant fails to cross this first hurdle. The fundamental purpose of the Press Code is to dispatch of complaints as expeditiously as possible.
  6. For the reasons given above, the application for condonation is refused, and the application for leave to appeal is therefore dismissed as it was noted way out of time.

Dated this 28th day of  July 2022.

Justice B M Ngoepe, Chair Appeals Panel