Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Press Council's brand of Justice - Part I

Dear Newspaper Readers,
          This is the first of a two part series on the spat the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman has had with Big Brother, the South African Press Council. It threw my complaints against the Sunday Times out on their ear.
          They only got to second base where former judge Ralph Zulman, the head of the Appeals Panel decided they didn’t merit consideration by the other members of that body. He refused me leave to appeal.
          He inadvertently introduced humour into this solemn occasion when he emailed me his finding. When I told him I couldn’t open it he sent it to the Council’s offices to have it passed on only to receive this reply, Judge please fax us your decision as we also can’t open the attachment.
          The Press Council’s inefficiency was highlighted once again at the bottom of the fax I finally got when the judge added; I regret the delay in this matter. The relevant papers only reached me last week.
          That was nearly four months after I had lodged an appeal after my case had been dismissed by Dr Johan Retief, the Deputy Ombudsman.
          The Council can dawdle along but aggrieved readers are expected to complain within 14 days of a disputed article appearing and lodge an appeal within seven days if the Ombudsman’s decision is disputed.
          Let’s be serious; it’s no laughing matter for the Sunday Times, with its vast circulation, to be dragged before the Press Council to have it’s morals questioned by this nobody who calls himself the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman. After all isn’t the Sunday Times such a pillar of rectitude that it is entitled to police everybody else’s behaviour?
          The Council (slogan: Effective self-regulation is the best system for promoting high standards in the media) holds itself up as a shining example of how well it’s brand of justice works. It adjudicates on complaints against the mighty Press, or the Fourth Estate if you want to be posh.
          You’ll never see a report in any paper of my case because papers are only compelled to publish the result when the complaint is upheld. The centuries old maxim that justice needs to be seen to be done gets conveniently bypassed. It’s a cosy arrangement to avoid embarrassing papers that are always attacking Government and other organisations for trying to keep their secrets.
          Complainants are kept pretty well in the dark about what is going on behind the scenes. They don’t get a copy of the allegations that have been put to the accused and nor are they given full details as to what the defence is maintaining.
          Here’s what happened when I took the Sunday Times to task over stories that appeared in the Business Times section of that paper so you can judge just how good or bad this keep-it-in-the-family system works.
          Apart from the newspaper itself my other antagonist was Thabo Leshilo, an impressive heavyweight in South African journalism. Harvard educated he had been editor of the Pretoria News and Business Times and Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday World and the Sowetan.
          He became the Public Editor for the Avusa Group, which owns the Sunday Times among other publications, more than a year ago. He was billed as the person who takes up complaints on behalf of readers, making him the Group’s in-house ombudsman. So it was to him that I directed my concerns.
·       First Complaint. I drew his attention to the dubious investment advertisements that were appearing in the Sunday Times because I felt that a lot of people, particularly pensioners, often got tempted by these get-rich-quick schemes and ended up losing everything. The paper clearly had its doubts about these ads because it warned readers to be careful where they put their money as the paper could not vouch for the claims made by advertisers.  Leshilo evidently agreed with me. The half page report he wrote that appeared in the Sunday Times mentioned my name and that the Group’s advertising manager had agreed to be choosier about accepting this type of ad. Leshilo wise words were that ads, like the rest of the paper had to be believable. The new policy did not last long before it reverted back to type with promoters promising investors ‘30% interest’ on their money and other too-good-to-be-true opportunities.
·       Second Complaint. Noseweek, South Africa’s investigative magazine carried a story headed High on the Hog. How Jim Jones ripped off his website employers and then spun the story. It told how this former editor of Johannesburg’s Business Day, who was now writing for the business section of the Sunday Times, had pocketed $20 487 belonging to Moneyweb, his ex-employer. The spun story he wrote in the Sunday Times was a scathing attack on Moneyweb and was evidently an act of revenge because he had been fired by this firm. The white washed apology the paper carried under Jone’s byline conveniently left out the fact that he had departed from Moneyweb under a cloud. I asked Leshilo, Why is Jones still employed by the Sunday Times and isn’t it particularly hypocritical to keep him on as the paper is in the business of exposing corruption. I referred to an article Leshilo had recently written entitled, Journalists who dirty their hands subtitled A few scoundrels can tarnish the credibility of an entire industry. He went on to say, The big problem though, is the way the media handles their ignoble sons and daughters. Referring to another case he had been dealing with he added, I have never seen such foot-dragging, buck passing and abdication of responsibility on something so damaging to the credibility of a newspaper.  After I had emailed him several times to find out what was happening he assured me, I’m not sweeping the Jim Jones matter under the carpet. But that’s exact what happened because Jones continued to write in the Sunday Times and its sister paper The Times with bigger and bigger bylines.
·       Third Complaint. This was prompted by an SMS from Laurie that appeared in The Times. He maintained that judging by the columns Leshilo had written he was not dealing with any complaints. I then asked him, Isn’t it time that your Group admitted that you are just another columnist and that if readers want to complain you are not the person to contact. He replied that he had been agonizing over this.
         To be continued.
          Yours sincerely
          Jon, a Free Blog advocate. 
Add caption

Buy my book 'Where have all the children gone?' on Amazon.com It's a thriller with an underlying love story.

No comments:

Post a Comment