Appeal Decision: Marlon Goss vs News24

Tue, Apr 6, 2021

In the matter of

MARLON GOSS                                                                                                   APPLICANT


NEWS24                                                                                                           RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 8524/02/2021



  1. This is an application by Mr Marlon Goss (“applicant”), for leave to appeal  the Ruling by the Acting Press Ombud dated 26 February 2021 dismissing the applicant’s complaint against News24 (“respondent”). The complaint was about an article published by the respondent on 5 February 2021 with the headline “Jesus Thesis and Other Critical Fabulations”: The sins Lot’s daughters saved from the ash”. The article was a publication of Akhona Mjawara’s review of one Kopano Maroga’s book “Jesus and Other Critical Fabulations”. The review was written in some language which to an average reader was unintelligible in many parts. But it spoke about LBGTQ people, presumably about the way they were treated. Jesus was centred into the article, and described as a “princely bottom, face service cum slut”. The defence of the story was, to paraphrase it, to draw attention to the bad treatment meted to the LBGTQ people. The Ombud dismissed the complaint. The appellant now seeks leave to appeal. The appellant was of course objecting from the point of Christianity.
  2. The Ombud summed up the complaint as follows: “Mr Marlow Goss complaints that the author called Jesus ‘a princely bottom, face serving cum slut’, which was ‘offensive’ and directed at Christians”. He says that this was “‘unnecessary’, adding that the statement in dispute was malicious and that it amounted to hate speech.” The Public Advocate had dismissed to the complaint about the article amounting to a hate speech. The Ombud therefore dealt only with the first complaint.
  3. The Ombud made reference to the right to freedom of expression, sensitivity by journalists to the cultural customs of readers, and also to clause 5.1 of the Press Code. The clause proscribes denigratory reference to people’s religion except under certain circumscribed circumstances. The Ombud referred to the relevant part of the review which eventually states that “Jesus is named and appears prominently not only as a ‘princely bottom, face servicing, cum slut’ but (also) as a recurring author, confidant, and queer affirming mascot ”.
  4. In coming to the decision he did, the Ombud did so principally on two grounds:
    1. 1 He said he did not interpret “cultural customs” in the Preamble of the Press Code to include religion.
    2. 2 Secondly, that a review of a book is not hard news – it is comment.

There was also another consideration. He said even if reference to Jesus (I imagine as a slut) was not necessary, “there is no provision in the Code that forbids unnecessary comments”. Even if they are hurtful to people? Since I am minded to grant leave to appeal, I prefer not to express myself any further.

I find the above views held by the Ombud, on which his decision was largely based, to the arguable. Assuming that only one – let alone more – were to be wrong, it would be impossible to know what his decision would be. The requirement for granting leave to appeal is reasonable prospects of success; the requirement is not whether the applicant will succeed. It follows I must grant leave to appeal.

  1. The applicant is accordingly hereby granted leave to appeal.

Dated this 5th day of April 2021

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel