Friday, March 18, 2011

Poor Man's Press Ombudsman in Disappearing Mystery

Dear Judge Ralph Zulman at the South African Press Council,
      Sorry to  bother you again Judge but as the Poor Man's Press Ombudsman I need somebody of your eminence to help me solve two disappearing mysteries at the Sunday Times.
         You will recall that you dismissed my complaints against that paper as being too frivolous to be put before the Council’s Appeals Committee which you head.

           My beef was twofold. I felt that it was immoral for that paper to carry dubious get-rich-quick advertisements. This was especially so as its in house ombudsman Thabo Leshilo had written a report indicating that something would be done about them after I had complained to him. But they went on appearing as usual.
          I pointed out that the dubiousness of these ads was compounded because among them the Sunday Times had its own ad warning readers that it could not be held responsible if anybody got burnt by investing in any of these schemes.
          I also questioned the paper's ethics for continuing to employ Jim Jones as a business writer when he had been exposed in Noseweek as having been dishonest when he worked for Moneyweb.
          In recent editions of the Sunday Times its warning advertisement has disappeared although there are still a sprinkling of those suspect investment ads. And where’s the Jim Jones byline which was prominently displayed? It too seems to have gone.
          Perhaps I haven't been looking properly. But if I'm right Your Honour can you explain why this should have happened?
     Why did the paper remove the very things that formed the basis of my complaints to your Press Council not long after you decided  that my moan had no merit? It makes you think doesn't it.          
          Of course had my complaints been upheld by your Council the paper would have had the embarrassment of having to publish the judgment for all its million or so readers to see. Luckily it has been able to quietly sweep everything under the carpet.
          No doubt the paper was hoping that the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman was drunk again and wouldn’t notice. And even if he did it would not be much of a blow because who reads his blog anyway – only 50 000 people or so. What’s that compared with the vast numbers who follow the Sunday Times each week and believe in its faultless morality?
          After all if a paper spends it's life exposing corruption and the shortcomings of all and sundry it follows doesn’t it that it would not employ a reporter who was suspect and nor would it carry anything that was not entirely believable.

          Ironically while you have been kicking my complaints into touch and these mystery disappearances have been going on at the paper your Council has been having hearings all round the country. Their purpose was to get people to submit ideas as to how your Council could improve its form of home town justice.
          For the life of me I can’t understand why your Council went to all this expense just because our African National Council Government was threatening to introduce some form of censorship and a better body to deal with Media complaints than  your outdated Council.
          All you had to do was to leave it me. As the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman I work for nothing. I don’t sit idly by while papers contravene their own Codes of Conduct as your Council does.
          Did you see that disturbing report about the results of a National Press Club survey among mainstream journalists in South Africa?  It found that 69% of editorial teams had their own codes of conduct but only 21% said these were referred to regularly. So if they are not bothered about their own ethical rules are they likely to uphold the ones set by your Council?
          It’s precisely this point that I have highlighted on several occasions on my blog. But unlike your Council I don’t wait for a complaint before I act. I’m on the look out for offences 24/7.
          If you feel Judge that any of my conclusions are unfair you are welcome to respond. The last thing I want is for the ANC to accuse me of not doing my job properly, otherwise, before we know it, millions will be allocated to establish a new Blog Policing Agency.
          Yours respectfully
          Jon, The Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman.
PS. In case you need to refresh your memory see Press Council’s Brand of Justice Part I & II on my blog.

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