Essop (Smiley) Moosa vs. Sunday Sun
Mon, Mar 26, 2018
Ruling by the Press Ombud
24 March 2018
Mr Essop (Smiley) Moosa
Date of text (column)
21 January 2018
Hot SunSpy News
Johan Vos, deputy editor
I have previously ruled on this complaint, in Moosa’s favour. However, due to some rather unfortunate communication at my office, it afterwards transpired that the newspaper did not get a proper opportunity to state its case. For the sake of fairness, I have therefore put the previous ruling on ice until such time that I have received its arguments, as well as Moosa’s response to that.
This has now transpired, and this ruling replaces the earlier one.
Moosa complains the text falsely stated he said that he could still play in the PSL – he says he merely criticised the level of soccer country-wide.
He adds that calling him “delusional” and a “dinosaur” was disrespectful, hurtful, derogatory and defamatory, and that this reportage has tarnished his dignity. (He refers to book entitled, Feet of the chameleon, published in 2010, in which he is listed as one of the top three of South Africa’s best players.)
He asks for a retraction and an apology.
The columnist said former Safa vice-president Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana’s A-team includes a “delusional” Moosa, “who believes he can still play in the PSL at the age of 66”. The text continued, “ ‘Dinosaur Moosa’ must have been one of Mzansi’s finest players in the 1920s, but he simply can’t accept the sad reality that he played in the wrong era… SunSpy is planning on organising a fancy, oakwood walking stick for Moosa on his next birthday.”
Vos submits that the text is a tongue-in-cheek and gossip column, as indicated by the strapline which reads, Your page of gossip, achievers, teasers and crowd pleasers. As such, he argues, it qualifies as protected comment as it falls under Section 7 of the Press Code.
He also notes that Moosa is threatening legal action.
In follow-up communication with this office, he says the reportage was based on numerous phone calls which Moosa had made to the following journalists:
· Matthews Mpete, sport editor of Daily Sun and Sunday Sun;
· Kgomotso Mokoena, sports editor of Sunday Sun (and the writer of the column in question);
· (BBK) Bareng-Batho Kortjaas, sports editor Sunday Times;
· Timothy Molobi, deputy sports editor City Press; and
· Charles Baloyi, senior sport reporter Daily Sun.
Vos says Moosa made the statement that he could still could play better football than most players in the PSL to all of these journalists.
In his reply to the above, Moosa describes in some detail his relationship with these journalists – and denies he ever uttered the words that are in dispute.
Section 7 of the Press Code, headlined Protected Comment, reads, “The media shall be entitled to comment upon or criticise any actions or events of public interest. Comment or criticism is protected even if extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it expresses an honestly-held opinion, is without malice, is on a matter of public interest, has taken fair account of all material facts that are substantially true; and is presented in such manner that it appears clearly to be comment.”
The central question is if the newspaper took fair account of all material facts that are substantially true. If “yes”, the newspaper’s comment is protected – even if Moosa finds it extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced; if the comment is based on a lie, then the comments would not be protected.
I have received the following testimonies of the journalists who were working for the Sunday Sun or the Daily Sun at the time, cited above:
· Mpete: “I’ve had numerous interactions with Mr Smiley Moosa in the past year where he has been telling me … that he can play football better that most ‘lousy’ players of today… And he has been bragging all the time that at his age that he is more speedy and creative than most soccer players of today”;
· Mokoena: “I have lost count as to how many times he has told me that at the age of 66, he can still play in the PSL. I have always known him as a forthright person who would stand by his stories. But I am now puzzled as to how he has turned around and denying his statement, which he has said to me, and a number of other Sports Journalists on numerous occasions… He calls the office every other second day, discussing and schooling us on how great he was and how ‘HE COULD STILL PLAY IN THE PSL AT HIS AGE’ because today’s standard of football is poor”; and
· Baloyi: “Since my days at the Pretoria News Mr Moosa has been calling me and telling me how great a soccer player he was back in the days. He even went as far as saying that … even today at his age, he can still play in the PSL and be better than current crop of players. He said that on numerous occasions.”
Based on this overwhelming evidence, I accept that the newspaper’s comment was based on “material facts that are substantially true”, and therefore conclude that it was protected by the Code.
Regarding the threat of legal action: Moosa is free to make such threats – I am only mandated not to adjudicate a complaint if “proceedings before a court are pending”, which is not the case as this stage.
The complaint is dismissed.
The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.