Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Press Council's brand of Justice - Part II

Dear Newspaper Readers,
          Here’s the second part of my Press Council’s Brand of Justice.
          In August last year I sent the complaints I had raised with the Sunday Times to the Press Council as I was not getting any joy from Leshilo after protracted email conversations over many months.
            Regarding the last one I added that I believed that the Avusa Group should be censured for appointing Leshilo as a window dressing exercise by promoting him as an ombudsman without giving him the authority to do the job properly.

          The Council’s Case Officer, Khanyi Mndaweni, to whom all complaints go initially, immediately dismissed all mine in an email that contained the following: This office does not deal with complaints pertaining to the business side of newspapers. Complaints regarding advertising are dealt with by the Adverting Standards Authority. She added she had spoken to Leshilo who had said he was dealing with my complaint.
          This would no doubt have put off the average person completely. But the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman doesn’t get sidelined that easily. I bypassed the Case Officer and spoke to Dr Johan Retief, the Council’s Deputy Ombudsman.  He told me that what I had been told was not true as they did deal with business sections. 
          Being told a lie to begin with did not give me much faith in this readers’ protection society.         
         I told him that I wondered if the Case Officer had dismissed my complaints out of hand because Thabo Leshilo was a big shot journalist who had recently been speaking on TV about the threat to Press freedom by the African National Congress controlled Government.
          I emphasised that my First Complaint concerned what was written about the adverts and not the ads themselves. I submitted that the headline Taking a stand on unsavoury adverts on the story Leshilo wrote clearly showed that the Avusa Group intended doing something about this kind of advertising.
          At the time I had no reason to keep the article so Dr Retief said he would ask Leshilo to produce it. You can’t believe what happened next.
          Thabo says he has no idea what I am talking about and suggests you produce the article. Stale mate, Dr Retief told me. So this eminent journalist had a sudden attack of amnesia about something I had been complaining to him about on a regular basis since the article appeared about a year earlier.
          I submitted that if this was the case then Dr Retief would have to accept my version unless Leshilo could show that I was wrong. It would seem he doesn’t want to produce the article because it would only fortify my case still further, I told him.
          How odd is this? Two days before I got that dubious email from the Case Officer, Leshilo sent me one saying, I have asked our head of advertising to consider a company-wide position on adverts for such get rich quick schemes. This was evidently what the Case Officer was referring to when she said Leshilo had told her he was dealing with my complaint.
          He was responding to an email I sent him three weeks earlier in which I pointed out that my campaign to get the papers in his group to stop carrying these adverts got a big write up in the beginning and then everything went back to normal. Surely he would have asked me to explain this write up if, as he claimed to Dr Retief, he knew nothing about it?
          Although I did not have the Jim Jones reports that appeared in the Sunday Times I told Dr Retief I had found the Noseweek story which I emailed to him. I also referred him to what Media Online had to say about the first story Jones wrote headed, Questions over Moneyweb price falls.
          Jim Jones, it said, raised a number of issues which appeared to be without substance. In answering Media Online’s questions, Moneyweb’s CEO Alec Hogg said that in almost three decades of his experience in journalism, Jone’s article ranked asthe most blatant example of a major media outlet being abused to pursue a writer’s personal agenda.’
          Dr Retief dismissed my complaints by saying he could not adjudicate if he did not have the advertisement article and he could not take my word and then confront Thabo with it. He did not have a copy of the Noseweek report about Jones although I had emailed it to him and in any case I cannot entertain a complaint that is a year late.
          Regarding my query about Leshilo’s role as Avusa’s internal ombudsman he said his office had no mandate to interfere in the goings on of newspapers. We can only act on what newspapers publish.
          Determined to have the last word I pointed out that the Council’s rules allowed for a late submission if there was a good reason for this. My first two complaints were only submitted to the Council after I had spent months unsuccessfully trying to resolve the issues with Leshilo, who kept fobbing me off with things like, I haven’t swept the Jim Jones matter under the carpet.
          I told him I believed he had shown complete bias in favour of the newspaper over the missing adverts story because anybody who had worked in newspapers would realise that a person who wrote a report under his own name would be able to produce it. 
          I concluded by saying that I believed his reason for dismissing my complaint about Leshilo’s ombudsman’s role was not valid  because if a journalist claims IN PRINT to be a newspaper’s ombudsman and then doesn’t fulfill the role as can reasonably be expected surely that’s something the Press Council is empowered to rule on?
          Were my complaints justified and is this the best way to dispense justice? You, the newspaper readers, be the judge.      
          Yours sincerely
          Jon, a Free Blog advocate.

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

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