Appeal Decision: Prof Abiodun Olukoga vs City Press


Fri, Sep 30, 2022

BEFORE THE APPEALS PANEL OF THE PRESS COUNCIL OF SOUTH AFRICA

In the matter between:

Prof Abiodun Olukoga                                                                                              Applicant

And

City Press                                                                                                              Respondent

Matter No: 9000/07/2021

DECISION ON AN APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

  1. This is an application by Prof Abiodun Olukoga (applicant) against a decision of the Deputy Ombud who had upheld the Public Advocate’s decision not to accept the applicant’s complaint. The applicant had lodged a complaint against City Press (respondent) in respect of an article published on 6 June 2021 headlined “Former University of Venda Professor seeks justice seven years after his dismissal”. Amongst others, the applicant complained that the publication was without his knowledge and consent and that he was not contacted for his views.
  2. In response to the complaint, City Press said that the article was based on papers filed by the complaint in court. It is common cause that the applicant did approach the Labour Court, although there was some confusion, including on the part of the Public Advocate, about whether the papers were filed with the Labour Court or with the Labour Appeal Court. The confusion did not, however, have a bearing on the merits of the complaint. It also appeared that for a long time the Public Advocate was under the impression that he had responded to the applicant, while he had not. He apologized for that and dutifully re-engaged the complaint. The Public Advocate declined to accept the complaint on the ground that there was no prima facie breach of the Press Code as the article was based on court papers. The matter was then referred to the Deputy Ombud for adjudication on the applicant’s insistence.
  3. In his Ruling dated 13 July 2022, the Deputy Ombud declined to adjudicate the complaint; in other words, he supported the decision of the Public Advocate. The applicant then launched this application, which is opposed by City Press.
  4. There are really two points on which the complaint and this application turn. There was no need for the applicant to file the voluminous papers he did.
  5. Firstly, the applicant bases his complaint on the fact that the article said he made an application to the Labour Appeal Court for leave to appeal. This was obviously incorrect; the application was made to the Labour Court, which was the court of first instance. For this inconsequential error, the Deputy Ombud asked City Press to make a correction. To me, the error was of no significance at all; for the truth of the matter is that court papers were filed, on which  the article was based; be they filed in the Labour Court or in the Labour Appeal Court. The papers were for leave to appeal, which is also common cause; that being the case, such papers could only have been filed in the Labour Court, which was the court of first instance.
  6. The second point raised by the applicant was that the emails exchanged between City Press and his erstwhile attorney on which the article was based, were false. There is no basis for this; in fact the lawyer confirmed what City Press had said. There is substance is the argument by City Press that the complainant was at loggerhead with some people and sought to drag in the newspaper.
  7. Neither the Public Advocate, nor the Deputy Ombuds were wrong in not accepting the complaint. The article was based on the communication between City Press and the applicant’s lawyer, as well as on the papers filed before the Court. There are therefore no reasonable prospects of success for the applicant before the Appeals Panel; in the circumstances the following Order is made:

The application is dismissed.

Dated this 29th day of September 2022

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel