Request for Adjudication: Kavi Pillay vs Daily Maverick


Thu, Mar 3, 2022

March 2 2022

Complaint: 9417

Request for adjudication

Date of publication: January 30 2022

Headline: It’s not ‘foreign forces’ – it’s the people of South Africa who are fed up with Gwede Mantashe and the DMRE

Author: Alex Lenferna

Particulars

Mr Kavi Pillay submitted a complaint about an online article published by Daily Maverick on the grounds that it was “blatant disinformation”. He did not specify which particular clause or clauses of the Press Code he believes the article contravenes.

1. Summary of text

1.1. The subject of the article is a recent claim by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe that a “foreign-funded” campaign is being conducted to destabilise his Department’s work and to damage his relationship with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

1.2. According to the article, Mantashe provides little evidence to substantiate his claim and is, in fact, spreading “blatant falsehoods, if not lies”.

1.3. In particular, the article takes issue with the Minister’s reference to an “unnamed” research centre at the University of Cape Town (UCT) that received international funding from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.

1.4. The article denies that “foreign forces” are behind opposition to the mineral and energy agenda of Mantashe and the Department, and contends that it is the people of South Africa who are annoyed with the Minister and the Department. It cites a recent nationwide protest against Mantashe and the Department’s mineral and energy agenda as evidence.

1.5. The article further submits that it is, in fact, the Minister who is acting in the interests of foreign forces, and argues that Western oil and gas multinational corporations will be the beneficiaries of his mineral and energy agenda, and not a children’s foundation.

2. Complaint

2.1. The complainant submits that the article is “blatant disinformation and ... a … lie”.

2.2. In support of his contention, he states: “In the article Alex [Lenferna] asserts that there is no Organisation and UCT that received funds from the UK Children’s Investment Fund and he then says the Minister is in fact lying.”

2.3. According to the complainant, the UK Children’s Investment Fund did indeed provide funding to UCT and to Meridian Economics.

2.4. The complainant therefore requests a retraction of the article and an apology.

3. Public Advocate

3.1. The Public Advocate responded that the complainant does not explain his interest in the matter.

3.2. He pointed out that the Press Council’s Complaints Procedures do not make provision for an unauthorised third party to lodge a complaint on behalf of the “true” complainant, and referred him to Clause 1.1 of these Procedures. He added that no complaint was received from the Minister.

3.3. The Public Advocate further noted that the article states that no UCT money funded the “#UprootTheDMRE” campaign – not, as the complainant submits, that “there is no Organisation and UCT that received funds from the UK Children’s Investment Fund”.

3.4. In light of these factors, the Public Advocate declined to accept the complaint.

3.5. In response, the complainant stated that he was submitting the complaint “in my own interest and secondly as a member of a group that being Energy professionals”.

 3.6. He also repeated his contention that the article contains” misinformation”, and outlined his response to four points in the article to support his claim.

3.7. In reply, the Public Advocate reiterated that the Press Council’s Complaints Procedures do not make provision for an “unauthorised third party” to lodge a complaint on behalf of the Minister, and once again declined to accept the complaint.

3.8. He added that he could not find a prima facie breach of the Press Code:  the article does not deny that certain funds were received by UCT; what it denies is that any UCT money was used to fund #UprootTheDMRE.

3.9. The complainant again questioned the decision of the Public Advocate to decline to accept his complaint, and subsequently submitted a request for adjudication.

4. Analysis

4.1. The crux of the matter is whether or not the Press Council’s Complaints Procedures allow a party that is not personally involved in a matter to lodge a complaint. The issue at stake here is not the merits of the complaint itself.

4.2. In this regard, Clause 1.1 of the Complaints Procedures clearly describes who the Press Council deems to be a bona fide complainant:

“Complainant” shall mean and include any person or body of persons which lodges a complaint and has standing to complain in terms of the following rule:

anyone acting in their own interest;
anyone acting on behalf of another person who cannot act in his or her own name;
anyone acting as a member of, or in the interest of, a group or class of persons; and
an association acting in the interest of its members.

4.3. In this instance, the complainant does not meet any of the requirements.

4.3.1. He does not satisfactorily explain why the matter is in his own interest, and merely presents it as a matter of indisputable fact.

4.3.2. There is no reason why the Minister cannot lodge a complaint himself should he wish to do so.

4.3.3. The complainant refers to being “a member of a group that being Energy professionals”. Such a vague reference to an amorphous group is devoid of any substantive information.

4.3.4. The complainant does not claim that he is acting on behalf of any association.

4.4. While I recognise that the complainant disagrees strongly with the contents of the article in question, it would be improper to disregard the Press Council’s Complaints Procedures and accept his complaint.

4.5. These Procedures spell out unequivocally who the Press Council regards as a complainant with standing, and clearly lay down the ground rules for complaints to the Press Council. To ignore these would be highly irregular and would, in fact, be tantamount to a dereliction of duty.

4.6. The Press Council and the Ombuds panel are therefore obliged to abide by the guiding principles of the Complaints Procedures as they currently stand.

4.7. This does not mean the complainant does not have any recourse to register his disagreement or displeasure with the article. For example, as suggested by the Public Advocate, he can submit a letter to the editor of the Daily Maverick for publication.

4.8. In sum, the Complainants Procedures do not grant any latitude for a deviation from its provisions.

Decision

For the reasons outlined above, I decline to adjudicate this complaint.

Appeals procedure

The Complaints Procedure stipulates 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

Tyrone August

Deputy Press Ombudsman

March 2 2022