Appeal Decision: Prof Shabir Moosa vs South African Jewish Report


Thu, Jan 13, 2022

BEFORE THE APPEAL PANEL OF THE PRESS COUNCIL OF SOUTH AFRICA

In the matter between:

Prof Shabir Moosa                                                                                                  Applicant

and

South African Jewish Report                                                                           Respondent

Matter No: 8974/08/2021

DECISION ON AN APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

1. This is an application by Professor Shabir Moosa (applicant) for leave to appeal a Ruling by the Deputy Ombud of the Press Council dated 4 October 2021. The Ruling dismissed the applicant’s complaint filed against the South African Jewish Report (respondent) in the wake of an article published by the latter on 3 June 2021 under the headline “Professor of Propaganda”, referring to the applicant. The article was a reaction to a WhatsApp clip circulated by the applicant amongst Wits medical interns under the training of the applicant. The clip depicted a group of people who, according to the applicant, were singing and dancing in celebration of the burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex which the applicant described as one of the holiest sites for Muslims.

2. It was in response to that WhatsApp clip that the respondent published an article by one Howard Sackstein in which he stated amongst others, that the mosque was never on fire; the Jews were engaging in an annual celebration of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was in that context that he referred to the applicant as the professor of propaganda. The two parties exchanged voluminous papers in the conduct of the proceedings which, as the Deputy Ombud was to correctly observe, were irrelevant to the real issues. The papers were, in my view, so prolific that they amounted to an abuse of the process. There was no reason why the complaint could not have been succinct and taken only two or three pages; so too the response.

3. In his Ruling, the Deputy Ombud summarized the applicant’s complaint as follows:

“11.1 Unbalanced reporting of news.

11.2 Conflict of interest by the SAJR.

11.3 Privacy, dignity and reputation. ‘The SAJR has invaded the privacy of the teaching space.’

11.4 An obfuscation of the facts evident from the video.

11.5 The headline, ‘Professor of Propaganda’, which is ‘intended to denigrate (Moosa) and misleads the public.’

11.6 The usage of Moosa’s picture in the printed edition of the SAJR opinion piece.”

4. The real question was whether the article was an opinion piece. The applicant argued that it was not, while the respondent argued that it was. One of the points raised by the applicant was that, as Mr Sackstein was Chair of the Board of the respondent, the article could not be an opinion piece. As the Ruling indicated, this argument could not be correct. The Ruling was that the article was an opinion piece and therefore protected under article 7 of the Code.

In this respect, the Deputy Ombud expresses himself as follows after analysing the case:

“[16.] I am satisfied that the article in question is indeed an opinion piece for the following reasons:

a. The article is clearly marked as an opinion piece.

b. The article is written, in large part, in first person from the perspective of Sackstein.

c. The credentials of the writer, and the capacity in which he expressed his opinion, is identified, as is customary in opinion pieces.

d. The author clearly expresses opinions in the article. One example is the concluding sentence: ‘I can’t help thinking that our doctors deserve a better education, and certainly better educators.’”

It is difficult to fault the reasons given. Other issues raised such as malice, were adequately dealt with by the Deputy Ombud.

5. Looking at the analysis by the Deputy Ombud, and the reasons given by him for his conclusion, I see no prospects of success on appeal. The application is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 2nd day of December 2021

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel