Monday, March 20, 2017


Dear Lovers of Free Speech,
          The Letter’s Column in today’s The Times puts Hellen Zille’s controversial tweet about colonialism being not all bad into the right perspective.
          It mirrored exactly what happens on social media and in the press in South Africa.
          If you are Black your freedom of speech, which can be just as controversial, if not more so than Zille’s tweet, can be a lot more free than if you are White saying much the same thing. And racialism as well as other kinds of prejudice is also far more serious if you are White than if you are Black.
          Under the heading Zille:Racist or truth teller? there were five letters on the subject. The first three broadly speaking supporting Zille’s view appeared to be from Whites with the last two from Blacks joining the hysteria about her remarks.

          The most telling one from Louis highlighted what the wild dogs of the media conveniently ignored when jumping on the #ZilleMustGo bandwagon.
          He pointed out that in the Saturday Star of February 4 Kabelo Chabala, who is clearly Black, wrote: “The truth is South Africa and many other African countries are better because of colonialism.  We are better developed because of the infrastructure that was built by colonisers.”
          So there are some Blacks who can see exactly what Zille was talking about through the prejudice.
          “The reaction? Not an indignant squeak,” was Louis’ comment. He added, “In the new South Africa everybody has a place. And Whites’ place is in the wrong even when we are in the right.”

          Significantly Chabala’s very balanced view appeared in The Star more than a month before Zille’s tweet on 16 March. And when our impartial media that is always looking for the truth, was doing its utmost to cash in on the social network frenzy that Zille caused, did anyone hunt him down for a more extensive interview. If they did I can’t find it anywhere. 
          Social media appears to have been ominously quiet when the long running case against Jon Qwelane, the veteran journalist notorious for his homophobic views, came up again. The Times tucked the story away under the innocuous heading ‘Hate speech laws not consistent’ on one side of Page 6. A day later Zille’s crime was splashed across the front page headlined: Zille’s tweet too far.
          Compare his case with that of Penny Sparrow, an elderly, sickly former estate agent. She got into trouble early in 2016 for her tweet complaining about hordes of “monkeys” being allowed to mess up Durban’s beaches over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
          Within months she was fined R150 000 by an Equity Court with a further R5 000 in a Magistrates Court for the criminal offence of crimen injuria.
          Qwelane made his own headlines in 2008 when he outraged the gay community with a column in the Sunday Sun entitled Call me names but gay is NOT okay.
He has yet to be found guilty and sentenced, 8 years after the column appeared.
          In it he lauded Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe’s anti gay stance. He went on to complain that “you regularly see men kissing other men in public and shamefully flaunting what are misleadingly termed their ‘sexual preferences.’”
          He lambasted the constitution and wrote that he prayed the politicians would have “the balls” to rewrite it “to excise those sections which give license to men marrying other men, and ditto women.
          “Otherwise at this rate,” he went on, “how soon before some idiot demands to ‘marry’ an animal and that this constitution ‘allows’ it. And by the way tell the Human Rights Commission that I totally refuse to withdraw or apologise for my views, because wrong is wrong.”          
          Our own President Jacob Zuma appears to have agreed with Qwelane because in 2010, while at least one court case against him was pending, he appointed the scribe as the South African Ambassador to Uganda. Evidently in his wisdom our President felt that Qwelane would feel at home there because Uganda has outlawed homosexuality with life imprisonment being the penalty for those who transgress. The previous death sentence was apparently considered too harsh.
          In 2011 a South African Equity Court ordered him to pay R100 000 towards a gay rights group and to apologise to that community. His was a much more serious offence than Sparrow’s when one considers not only what he wrote, but that the Sunday Sun has a readership of over 2-million. In addition he made it clear that he had no intention of apologising, whereas Sparrow did just that.
          The South African Human Rights Commission received a record 350 complaints about Qwelane’s column. That’s how bad it was yet the Equity Court showed, by the penalty it arrived at that his offence was not regarded as seriously as Sparrow’s. Did his colour stand him in good stead?  
          The newspaper, which is in the Media 24 stable, printed an apology but why it was never charged for carrying such obviously contentious muck, only the state will know. Qwelane on the other hand won’t say sorry. He believes what the paper did was enough.
          That was not the end of the story. The Equity Court’s finding was annulled because Qwelane was not at the hearing as he was conveniently in Uganda at the time.
The Human Rights Commission then took up the case in which he has been challenging his conviction in the Johannesburg High Court on the basis that the parts of the Equity Act, under which he was found guilty, infringed his right to free speech.
          Various hearings have been held, sometimes without him as he claimed he was ill and it still hasn’t ended. It just goes on and on.      

          It’s a very far cry from the almost instant “justice” meted out to the little old White lady who didn’t have an editor or sub-editor to vet her thoughtless tweet before she let it loose on the world.
          There are only one or two African countries that have never been colonised. So perhaps somebody should see if their infrastructure and other facilities are up to the standard of the ones that have. But I don’t think the colonialism-was-all-bad school would want that. It might just blow their case.
          If colonialism and apartheid had nothing to commend them what will the plusses be for South Africa by grabbing prosperous farms without compensation and an affirmative action policy that rewards people essentially on colour rather than ability?  
          Jon, who believes that if all South African’s media showed the same social media maturity as Panyaza Lesufi ( most mature social media user ) we would all be a lot better off. He’s BLACK by the way.

P.S. Helen Zille is the 66 year old Premier of the Western Cape and the former leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Dear Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President of South Africa,

          Surely the most important thing we need to do in our country at the moment is to ensure that the millions without a job get work, any work at any rate.
          By forcing a minimum wage of R3 500 on all employers, all you are doing is looking after the people who are already in a job when our unemployment rate is sky high at 26% and rising.
          And it could even cause some workers to lose their jobs if their employers can’t afford the new rate. By far the worst aspect is that at the same time it will ensure that a lot of those without work will never, ever be able to get started.
Letter in The Times
          In its analysis of this plan the Institute for Race Relations also believes that it will “only further limit the access to the labour market” for the unemployed.
          Sir, which would your prefer to have; a regular job that pays say R2 000 or even less per month or no job at all. Imagine, if you can, that you also have a wife and two children to support and her job as a domestic came to an end because her employer could no longer afford to pay her the minimum wage stipulated for her category when that came into force a few years ago.
          How many domestic workers lost their permanent jobs and are now working on an hourly basis a few days a week because a minimum wage was decreed for them?         
          I almost missed out on a career in journalism because of the minimum wage for reporters that was in force in Britain when I started. Typically it was a union idea -the National Union of Journalists.
          I was 22 when I arrived there from South Africa determined to become a journalist. The only problem was that according to what the Union decreed an apprentice started at 17 so a 22 year old had to be paid the rate of somebody with five years experience.
          Hardly surprisingly I battled to find anybody to take me on, even though I was happy to work for just about nothing to get a foot in the door.
Letter in The Times
          Eventually I was accepted by one of the few papers in the country that didn’t recognise a union and nobody bothered about this because it was so small. That’s where I started on a pittance and I was actually married at the time.
          It was a real sweat shop that consisted of the editor, a sadistic news editor and three very green reporters – me, another guy and a girl who was in tears almost every day. The turnover of the staff was such that after eight months I was the most experience reporter.
          It was the fastest learning school I ever experienced. For instance on my first day in a little town I had only been in for a few days the news editor asked me to report on an accident. He gave me the address and when I naively asked where this was he flew into a rage and told me to damned well look it up on the map.
          You had to report just about everything that happened there to fill the paper and if the news editor heard you had passed the registry office without noticing the confetti in the street that showed a wedding had taken place there was hell to pay. You would then be grilled by him and the editor for an hour or more.
          The training I got there enabled me to write for just about all the major British newspapers as a freelance and become an investigative journalist on The Star and the Sunday Times in Johannesburg. All of this would not have been possible if that minimum wage had been rigidly enforced.

          Of course unions love minimum wage regulations because they do what they do best; they destroy enterprise and reduced everyone to the lowest common denominator. They also ensure that nobody works at a rate that will undercut their members.
          Pandering to them however does nothing to ensure that the majority have a job, any job as long as they can earn something.

          Fortunately like so many of our African National Congress master plans a minimum wage is unlikely to work because the policing will be so bad. We have lived in the same place for the last 10 years and nobody has every come to us to ensure that we pay our maid the required minimum.
          Jon who believes that anything that stifles freedom of choice in the job market can only be bad, very bad.        


Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Dear Capetonians,
Philip Prins
            As fires are a regular occurrence all round Cape Town every year you would think that the Table Mountain National Park’s (TMNP) experts would know how to deal with them by now.
          When this one started in the early hours of Sunday 12 February their advice ensured that not only were people and homes needlessly endangered, but a huge amount of money was spent unnecessarily on fire fighting helicopters. 
            Arsonists evidently started it, but the way it was dealt with you would be excused if you thought it was one of TMNP’s “prescribed burns” that it does from time to time as part of its ecological management.  
            It involved the Noordhoek wetlands, an uninhabited flat, sandy area of 100 hectares or more next to the sea not far from Cape Point. This is covered in indigenous fynbos and other highly combustible vegetation.
            On the side opposite the sea, below a nearby mountain is the Wildervoel vlei, an expanse of water that varies from several hundred meters wide to a stone’s throw across as it meanders down to the sea. While it used to be dry at this time of year in the Cape’s rainless summers, this no longer happens as it is fed continuously with treated effluent from the nearby sewage works.
Fire approaching built up area
            On the mountain side of the vlei going up to Kommetjie Road there are various up-market housing developments at the one end and at the other there is a light industrial zone following by the heavily populated black township of Masiphumelele with its numerous shack settlements and low cost housing.

             It was no place to be playing with fire.
            The wetlands are controlled by TMNP a division of South African National Parks (SANParks) and the built up areas come under the jurisdiction of the Cape Town City Council. 
          So it would seem that the City had no option other than to go along with the decision of the TMNP boffins to just let it burn.
          Day and night it blazed away with the authorities apparently unaware that people living in the area were scared to death, having sleepless nights with their windows glowing red. Many of them would have seen it creeping along the edge of the water and heard the ominous crackle when it got among the thick reeds beds along the vlei’s edge as it jumped the water to the side where everybody lives.
            I live a couple of streets above the vlei in the Imhoff’s Gift estate so I had a grandstand view of the fire from our upstairs bedroom as it flared up in numerous different places.  
Inside our upstairs bedroom even though we were quite
a distance from the fires.
            With a near hurricane blowing it could have gone anywhere while the master minds of this fiasco were no doubt sleeping peacefully nowhere near a fire.
            In an email Philip Prins TMNP’s Fire Manager explained the bizarre thinking behind what was very nearly a serious disaster. “After consulting with Park Management, ecologists and the City of Cape Town it was decided to allow the fire to slowly back burn into the wind. No threat to lives or property was established at the time and SANParks and Cape Town officials monitored it to ensure it did not threaten any lives or homes.”
            It seems that Prins was very ill informed because that’s exactly what it did do.
            On the night of Day 3 Tuesday 14 February it really got going among the reeds in front of Imhoff’s Gift estate. Franko Maritz and his family could see the flames frighteningly close to their waterside home on the one edge of the estate next to the industrial park. At 8 pm they called the City Fire Department only to be told they didn’t have the resources to deal with it but were monitoring the fire. Four agonising hours later a fire engine arrived just in time to put out what was burning just 50 meters or so in front of their property.
Burnt out reeds close to the Maritz home
Tinder-dry grass and reeds in front of the homes
            It was a very close call because if the fire had gone any further it would have been into the very dry grass and other reeds that are in front of all the properties along the side of the water. At the other end of the estate it was just as scary.
           Prins went on to say: “On Wednesday 15th the wind switched direction and unfortunately due to a temperature inversion the smoke was trapped until it lifted by midday. The helicopters were called in immediately to prevent the fire from reaching the urban boundary near Imhoff’s Gift.”
            This had already happened more than 12 hours before but the helicopters couldn’t take off in the dark or fly through the smoke. However the fire had by no means been put out by the end of that day.
            That’s what happens when you play with fire.
            He added that “around Imhoff there was a very dense thicket of vegetation on very soft sand which makes it extremely difficult for wildfire fighters to access the area with their equipment and remain safe, making fire fighting extremely dangerous in this area.”
            That was another very good reason why his department should not have been playing with fire there.
            On Thurs 16 February a helicopter continued to water bomb the area, but by this time it had 20 or 30 separate fires spread over a wide area to put out. And inexplicably instead of taking water from the vlei it flew several kilometres a time to fetch it from the sea.

            At something like R30 000 an hour this just put up the helicopter costs considerable.
            When I asked Prins why sea water was used as I always thought this was bad for the soil he gave me this very strange answer: “TMNP is very aware of the water crisis in Cape Town and is trying to minimise the use of any municipal water to fight fires, as a result the helicopters were requested to use sea water rather than any fresh water sources which could deplete water reserves.”
First day of helicopter bombing
Fires were still going strong after the helicopter's first day
in the air
            Since when do you have “fresh” water in a vlei fed by treated effluent that often becomes very toxic because of the algae that grows in it? If anybody should have known this it should have been Philip Prins the Parks Department’s fire chief.
            In the past helicopters have often taken water from it to put out fires, so it was odd to say the least that this was not done on this occasion.
          At a rough estimate the helicopter costs were R300 000. This would have been a lot less if one had been used on the Sunday when the fire first started and would have been so much easier to put out.
          One has to face the fact that this was an irresponsible bungle that could so easily have resulted in the loss of lives and homes.
If cigarette manufacturers have to give this warning
shouldn't the Parks Department have to give a similar one
          As the advertisement for Nandos flame grilled peri-peri chicken restaurants tells us: “25 years and still playing with fire.”It might be fine for Nando’s but the Parks Department showed on the Noordhoek wetlands that it is not a game it should be playing.  
It’s just too dangerous.
Jon, who wonders if the Park’s experts realise that it’s not only the flames themselves that can affect people lives but the smoke as well, not to mention the powdery ash that is blown about afterwards.
This could be what Cape Town's like soon if arsonists
       and the Parks Department go on playing with fire
P.S. Undeterred the Park has just announced it plans to play with fire once again near Cape Point; at Black Hill from Sun Valley to Glencairn; on Roodeberg in the Capri Village area; off Orphen Road, Tokai and at Constantia Nek by starting its own “controlled burns” in March and April. But don’t worry these will be “supervised strictly by TMNP” – like the one in the Noordhoek wetlands presumably.

Monday, February 6, 2017


Dear Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi,
          Chris Barron’s brilliant Sunday Times interview with you after 94 mentally ill patients died in probably the country’s worst medical disaster showed what a terrible state our Government health department is in.
          Mickey Mouse could have given him better answers. But then perhaps I’m being a bit unfair because all he would have had to go on is the deplorable government health service that your African National Congress party has given us since it came to power 23 years ago.
          From what you told Chris you appear to be in another world devoid of the reality the average South African has to contend with daily if all they can afford is to be treated at your mostly bad Government hospitals and clinics.

          It was comical the way you came across. You would have been better off just saying: “No comment.”
          And, as if everything is perfect, you press on regardless with your plans to introduce a National Health Insurance scheme. Even first world Britain is battling to sustain its NHS because of the enormous cost, but you think it will work in our third world where the Government is already financial strapped to a large extent because so many people in power are putting their hands in the Government purse.

          In any case there are many far more important things, like basic services our vast population of poor people need before an NHS is introduced.
          For us the only thing an NHS will insure, the way things are going, is that seriously ill patients will be more likely to die than live.

          If Qedani Mahlangu, the Gauteng Provincial Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Health, and her officials didn’t have the brains to realise that if you take these vulnerable people out of a health care facility and dump them in private homes with untrained carers you are going to kill them, then the department is very, very ill indeed.

          Actually it’s more than just the health department; it’s your entire ANC Government that is so terribly diseased. It has been decimating every single government department since it came to power. There’s not one that is not plagued by corruption or some other kind of serious scandal.
          It’s hardly surprising when we have our President Jacob Zuma leading the way with one shocker after the other.

          How qualified was Mahlangu to be in charge of a provincial health department and as the Minister for Health for the entire country where were you when this deadly shuffle was unfolding?
          Mahlangu has held various MEC positions in Gauteng, the province that surrounds Johannesburg, the industrial and financial heart of the country. She obtained a teaching diploma with an Advanced Diploma in Economics at the University of the Western Cape as well as a Graduate Diploma from the London School of Economics.
          Was knowledge of impersonal economics all that was needed to qualify her to head a province’s medical department? Clearly she had no training at all in what was perhaps the most important attribute she needed for the job - how to treat the helpless with compassion.
          In his findings Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba blamed her and her officials for the “callous cost cutting” that led to the death of the 94 from “disease, hunger, thirst and neglect.”
          She resigned but shouldn’t you also take part of the blame? Don’t you keep an eye on what’s going on in the provinces?
          At least you are appropriately a medical doctor. But your party appears to haphazardly appoint its top Government officials because I see that you were previously the MEC in the Limpopo province for transport, agriculture and education. So was it pure luck that a doctor ended up as our national Minister of Health?
          The big question now is: Will Mahlangu get a huge state pension or will she be given another plumb job with something like the R2-million a year salary that she was taking home as the Health MEC?
          Jon, who thanks his luck stars that he has a medical aid that ensures he that he has the funds to be treated in a private hospital.

P.S. I bet you Dr Motsoaledi that when you or members of your family need hospital treatment you keep well clear of the state medical facilities that you no doubt want us all to use under your National Health Insurance scheme.

P.P.S. Professor Makgoba deserves the highest praise for pulling no punches in his report and for naming and shaming the main culprits in no uncertain terms.


Thursday, January 19, 2017


Dear Media Scribes,

          As people in the public eye shouldn’t you be particularly careful about watching your language when tweeting or having your say on Facebook?
          Before you put something into print shouldn’t you ask yourself if the words you are going to use will be acceptable to your employer’s image or any publication you write for?
          You might use foul language in your everyday talk among your friends, but is it wise to put this on social media unedited?
          Lauren Hess, News24’s Night Editor evidently believes in keeping editing out of her personal life.  I wonder if she was taught anything about the pitfalls of Social Media when she got her national diploma in journalism at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in 2006; or whether this ever came up while she was a content manager for the News24 and FinNews website, before she moved up to her Night News Editor’s job.
          For some reason, which I have not been able to fathom, women are something like 80% more likely than men to use the F… word on Social Media and Lauren did nothing to spoil the figures.
          One lady is so desperate to be noticed she has dubbed herself Trouble@LadySayFuckALot. I’m not suggesting that Lauren is in this league yet, but if she doesn’t listen to her mother who knows what might happen.

          After tweeting that her mother had just taken to Social Media Lauren let us into to her mother’s thinking with these wise words: Lauren: please mind your language! Don’t use the ‘f’ word so publicly! Your mother. 

           I couldn’t resist carry on the banter with: I couldn’t agree with your mother more. I added a link to a post I wrote in 2015 about journalists who had fouled their nests on Twitter in much the same way(Bad language journos).                                                                  You don't have to be a genius to guess what Lauren tweeted back to me. 
She ignored her mother’s advice completely with: fuck off

          I was interested to know what the policy was at News24 regarding this sort of thing so in an email I asked Adriaan Basson the Editor-in-Chief if his Group approved of its staff using this kind of language on Social Media.
          “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will address the matter,” he replied. While he didn’t say anything more I assume this means that his firm has even stronger views on the subject than Lauren’s mother.
          And he has the power to ensure that Lauren doesn’t ignore them if she values her job.
          So it looks as though Mummy did know best Lauren, after all.
I thought it would be pointless asking Lauren for her comments before I posted this because I didn’t think another two words would add to it.
          Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman.

P.S. The worst swear word I ever used was Damn! when I missed a nail and hit my thumb. And as I don’t have an employer to censure me I don’t have to worry about what my Mother says.

P.S.S. News24 is part of the massive South Africa based Naspers multinational internet and media organisation.

Monday, January 16, 2017


Dear Patricia de Lille Mayor of Cape Town,

         In the Sunday Times article headed How Cape Town became a place that means business you told us why the Mother City has been named as having one of the best foreign direct investment strategies in the world.
         That’s great but it doesn’t mean that nothing must be done about a shocking waste of ratepayers money that keeps going on and on at the same place.
         You can’t get much more idiotic than this: piling sand that has been blown onto a road back on to the edge of it where it came from.
         You can’t get much more idiotic than this: dumping a lot of the sand in truck loads onto the edge of a nearby wind swept car park.
Sand being cleared
         The section of road that gets covered in sand is just before the entrance to the Soetwater recreational and camping area. This also has an environmental education centre and conference facilities for about 40 people.
Some cleared sand piled on the side where
it came from
         The road branches off there to Witsands surfing beach a short distance away where there is a car park as well as a slipway for launching boats.
Sand dumped on the side of the car park
        Within a week of the sand on the road being shifted with a front end loader and two trucks the road was covered almost as badly as it had been before. This expensive charade takes place every few months depending on how strong the wind has been.
         It’s as idiotic as digging holes and filling them up again. But nobody on the Council seems to realise this. After all it’s not their money that is being spent so why worry. See:clearing the road once again .
         The real problem is the adjoining dunes where the City has spent millions on futile schemes to stabilise the sand. See: capetown's money dump; wasting moremoney dumping gets worse .                 
         No doubt our service charges will go up soon by the usual 8% to 10% while our money continues to be blown away with this kind of idiocy.
         Yours faithfully,
         Jon, a ratepayer and Consumer Watchdog who only wishes that his bite was effective enough to eradicate scandals like this.


Thursday, November 24, 2016


Dear Newspaper Readers,
Cape Times News Editor
Lynette Johns
          Was my complaint to the Press Council about being lied to repeatedly the final one that broke Independent Media’s faith in that body’s ability to fairly police its publications?
          As you probably know that’s Iqbal Surve's empire that claims to be the leading newspaper group in the country with titles like the Cape Times, the Cape Argus, The Star in Johannesburg and various others. 
          As a former newspaper investigative journalist living in Cape Town I have a blog to keep me off the streets. So when I got an exclusive I thought the post would make a good story for my local morning daily the Cape Times.
          It was about a doctor (caring doctor) charged by the Health Profession Council with abusing his doctor/patient relationship to enrich himself.
          The Cape Times News Editor, Lynne Johns evidently agreed with me after I sent her an email on 11 July with a link to the post. I told her, “You can take anything off my blog, just credit it. I’m a former Sunday Times investigative journalist so I know a bit about how to do investigations.”
          I followed this with a call the same day to make sure she got the email and I again emphasised that my blog should be credited. This she agreed to, if the story was used.
          In an email she thanked me for giving her the link and said she would pass the story on to one of their reporters.
          After that I got nothing but one broken promise after another.

13 July: The story appeared as the front page lead under the byline of Francesca Villette. I had given her the contact details of the complainant and had sent her affidavits I had received. She too undertook to credit my blog. But nothing appeared and nor was I or my blog mentioned in the brief peace the following day about the hearing being adjourned. There was still room of course for Villette’s email address at the bottom.
14 July: I outlined what had happened in an email to the Editor Aneez Salie. It began, “What has just happened to me is what gives journalists a bad name.” He later claimed he only saw my email on 18 July and he would “meet with those involved tomorrow and revert to you.” This he never did even though he expressed his “sorrow for the inconvenience.”
19 July: When I complaining to Johns on the phoned she said she did not know about any undertaking. Her email response made nonsense of this when she wrote, “Once again thank you for alerting us to the story and sharing your knowledge, we really appreciate it. Unfortunately the subs had to cut the story. This is why the reference to your blog did not make the paper. However, there will be a follow-up and then Francesca will do a sidebar on you, your blog and how you uncovered the story. Please accept my apologies.” I told her it could be months if not years before the case came up again to warrant a follow up story and that it was “ an old tired excuse to blame the subs.”  
20 July: The paper had another chance to put things right, but didn’t. On page four it had a story about how, for the second time in seven months, the Cape Times front page had been chosen among the world’s Top Ten by the Newseum in Washington DC. And as life would have it this was the one with the story I originated splashed across it. The article about this achievement told readers what the story was about but again there was no mention of who had tipped the paper off. In the background at the top of the page was a photograph of President Zuma and Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa unveiling the Delville Wood Memorial in France. The story about this was on the inside pages.

24 July: Fed up with the ongoing deceit I complained to the Press Council.
28 July: The Council’s Public Advocate, Latiefa Mobara replied saying that the Cape Times is keen to set the record straight.” She included the paper’s response from Damien Terblanche, its Internal Legal Counsel. He began by explaining, for my benefit, how a newspaper works. His reason for my blog not being mentioned in the Newseum’s story was that it was not “the front page lead that got us the accolade, but the page in its entirety, specifically our masthead picture” showing the unveiling of the memorial. How this prevented my contribution being credited in the part that referred to the front page lead or any of the earlier stories only he knows. “We are surprised and disturbed that Abbott has turned to the Press Ombud when we were still in communication with him,” he went on. He repeated the paper’s offer to do a sidebar about me and my blog when the case came up again. “This is surely more than we would do for anyone else. We request that the Ombud refers Abbott back to us.” She did that and I told her I would accept their offer provided I could be assured that the next time the matter came up I would not be told there was again no room for a sidebar. I explained that I had only complained to her because I got no reply to my last email. I asked her to tell the Cape Times “If it makes an agreement it should stick to it.”
3 November: A report on the resumed hearing appeared on Page 4 of the Cape Times by Johns herself this time. There was another one by her the following day after the case was again adjourned. True to form that promised sidebar never materialised and nothing about me or my blog was mentioned.
Johns telling us about how important 'truth' is at the
Cape Times
4 NovemberI complained to her again.
6 November: This was a Sunday and her email was as though there had never ever been a problem. “Good morning Jon, how are you,” she began. “I can do a sidebar this morning. I have quite a bit of copy left over from last week. Can I call you? Regards, Lynette.” We had a conversation shortly afterwards and she again promised me that illusive sidebar would appear with her story in the following Tuesday’s edition. Guess what, not only was the sidebar invisible but so was the story as well. 

8 November: My email of disgust to her went unanswered. I told her “It looks as though the Cape Times has been pulling my chain.” It ended, “The obvious heading for my next post would be Newspaper Immorality a la Cape Times.
10 November: The surprising twist to the saga was when I told Latiefa what had happened. She disclosed that as Independent Media, the publishers of the Cape Times, had withdrawn from the Press Council they no longer had any jurisdiction over any of its papers. It appears that with 77 complaints against it to the Press Council this year, including some unfavourable findings, Independent Media decided it would be better off dealing with them itself. Heaven for bid that I should tell a lie, but it’s a possibility that my complaint was the one that finally pushed this Group into resigning. It pulled out allegedly to save legal costs because it felt that the Council should never have abolished the waiver clause. This compelled complainants to agree to relinquish their right to take legal action against media owners if they wanted their complaint heard by the Council. And when I Googled this I saw that Jovial Rantao, a former editor of various papers in the Independent Media Group, had been appointed its internal ombudsman to deal with complaints with “immediate effect” from October 21.  Having dealt with ineffective internal newspaper ombudsmen before I didn’t have much faith in this one. But I thought I would test him with my Cape Times experience. Bad idea.

11 & 15 November: I emailed him, but got no reply.
17 November: I tried phoning him at the Group’s Johannesburg head office on the number (011 633 2180) that I had been given for him and the automatic response was that his voice mail had not yet been activated.  On the same day I spoke to Jennifer Johnson in another section of the headquarters and she undertook to get him to contact me. She copied me an email she had sent him asking him to do this. By 24 November I had heard nothing from him.
So that’s a very cost efficient way of getting rid of a complaint with the minimum of effort.
          When he was appointed Rantao was quoted as saying, “Independent Media has always maintained high standards of ethical journalism as guided by the Press Code. My role will be to ensure that our publications continue to adhere to these high standards and that complaints from members of the public are dealt with fairly and efficiently.”
          My experience was a long way from making this Rantao statement a reality.
          Among his many accomplishments he is a former Chairperson of the South African National Editors Forum. Ironically under the heading of “Core Principles” it states “SANEF is founded on high ideals in an industry that, around the world, is often maligned for its lack of integrity.”
          And if you want to know why, you need look no further than the Cape Times.
          Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman, who has never been in favour of self policing. Would you value my opinion if I told you that my blog was the best one in the world?

P.S. With the advent of social media information of all kinds gets flashed around the world in an instant, making it more and more difficult for papers to get exclusive news. That’s one of the reasons why so many of them are declining. So it’s very short sighted of papers if they don’t treat people like me in a way that encourages them to keep passing on good stories. In my case at least they got the raw material for their business for free. Most firms would relish this prospect.