Appeal Decision: Timothy Omotoso vs Drum Mag

Thu, Sep 20, 2018


In the matter between:

TIMOTHY OMOTOSO                                                                                        APPLICANT


DRUM MAGAZINE                                                                                        RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 3830/05/2018


  1. This is an application for leave to appeal by the church known as Jesus Dominion International (“applicant”) to appeal a Ruling by the Press Ombud dated 31 July 2018 in which all but one complaint against the Drum Magazine (“respondent”) were dismissed. The applicant has lodged the complaints on behalf of its pastor, Pastor Timothy Omotoso. The complaints followed an article in the respondent’s edition of 10 May 2018, with the headline “PREYED ON BY MY PASTOR”.  It was a story as narrated by a young woman, aged 16, about how she was lured by the pastor and leader of the church, Timothy Omotoso.  The young woman said she was sexually assaulted by the pastor over a period of a few years, during which she was kept by him as a sex slave until she ran away. Needless to say, her identity was not disclosed; a fictitious name was used. It is relevant and material to mention that the pastor was charged and arrested on the basis of similar allegations by other women.  As he was a Nigerian, the police alleged that he was in the country illegally; he was denied bail.  It was also mentioned in the story that he was Nigerian-born.
  2. The applicant raised several complaints: that the story was biased and untrue; that it was not true that the pastor lured the girl to join a church group but that she was brought in by another pastor; that the story presented allegations as fact; that Omotoso’s denial of the allegations was not mentioned; that it was xenophobic to refer to him as a “Nigerian” pastor. That the cover page put more emphasis on him than the victim and, finally, that the story was defamatory of him.
  3. The Ombud, correctly, indicated that as the matter was before court, he would not adjudicate on the merits or accuracy thereof; it was for the court to do so.  He would only deal with journalistic issues which would have no bearing on the proceedings before the court.  In the process, he analysed the issues and gave full reasons why he would dismiss all the above complaints he could adjudicate, barring one.  He upheld the complaint that the story did not mention that when the pastor’s lawyer was asked to comment on the sexual allegations by various victims, the lawyer said he could not comment as the matter was before court.  The respondent had also conceded that this should have been mentioned in the story.  For this omission, the Ombud found that the respondent contravened section 1.8 of the Press Code, which states that if the media are unable to obtain comment from the subject of critical reportage,  that should be reported.  A sanction, in the form of a reprimand, was imposed and ordered to be published; directives were given in that regard. There is one point I want to return to, namely, that by mentioning that the pastor was Nigerian, the respondent was  xenophobic. The complaint was made against the fact that the pastor was said to have been in the country for more than 15 years. As the respondent pointed out, that he was Nigerian was relevant to the story because the police told the journalist that a charge of being in the country illegally was also levelled against the pastor.
  4. Having looked at the reasons given by the Ombud, I see no reasonable prospects of success for the applicant before the Appeals Panel. That being the case, the application is dismissed

Dated this 17th day of September 2018

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel