Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Noseweek exposes Dearjon Letter

Dear Ray Hartley Editor of the Sunday Times,
         As you probably know by now Noseweek, South Africa’s only investigative magazine, has published a slightly shortened version of this letter in its May edition. But I thought you would like to read the original. So here it is.
*   *   *   *
        It’s deplorable the way your paper has been promoting crooks for years. This is especially so as the Sunday Times likes to brag that its team of investigative reporters are there to do just the opposite.
         Do you know what I’m talking about? Well you should if you watched Carte Blanche’s expose` on TV the other night.
        It was about the activities of two wide boys Kevin Cholwich and Francois Buys. They were said to have defrauded a host of people out of a total of more than R100-million over the last few years with a variety of scams.

News Flash 13/05/2012: BUYS commited suicide last week by hanging himself.
          But where the Sunday Times comes in was that two of their companies that were mentioned were Whoopee and Geo Connect.
         So what, you might ask? What’s that got to do with a paper that is believed by over 3-million readers a week?
The answer is that you have been carrying Whoopee and Geo Connect advertisements and various other suspect ones that promote get-rich-quick schemes.
And all my efforts to get you to stop have come to nothing.
         "We can’t be expected to check every ad that appears in the paper," you could argue. "That’s why we specifically warn investors to be careful where they put their money."
         Sorry that won’t wash in this case. I have been campaigning for more than three years to get your paper to stop these ads because they could harm a lot of people, particularly pensioners and those who can least afford to lose their savings.  
         I first complained to Thabo Leshilo in 2009 shortly after he had been appointed the Public Editor for the Avusa Group (Sunday Times, The Times, Sowetan etc). This Harvard educated, former editor of several Avusa papers, was billed as the Group Ombudsman.
         He apparently agreed with me judging by the story he wrote in the Sunday Times headed Taking a stand on unsavoury adverts. The report mentioned my name and implied that something was going to be done to ensure this kind of advertising no longer appeared.
As he put it ads, "like the rest of the paper had to be believable."
        Tragically it didn’t take long for your paper to revert back to its old ways. So I complained to the Press Council that it had not kept its word, but Thabo claimed to have no knowledge of the article. Unfortunately I had not kept a copy and it was nowhere to be found on the internet, so my complaint was dismissed.
         At one stage I accused him of being a window dressing appointment who had not been given the power to deal with complaints effectively.  He replied that he had been "agonising over this." Soon afterwards he disappeared without a trace and even Google still says he has the same job.
         The ads carried on appearing and I continued to complain.
         Thabo was succeeded, as you know, by veteran newsman Joe Latakgomo, who has an equally impressive pedigree. In the early days of his tenure he got upset with me because he felt I had accused him of being another lame ombudsman.
         But his subsequent reports in the Sunday Times and The Times have given little indication that he is anything other than a run of the mill columnist. I have only seen one that dealt with a specific complaint and that was mine. And even then he made no definite finding.
         In September last year he wrote an article headed Beware of dubious advertising claims.  And once again it looked as though your paper was finally going to stop aiding crooks.
         Joe told us that these come-ons "eroded the public’s trust in newspapers" and that "false advertising, or advertising that makes claims which are patently exaggerated, impacts on consumer confidence."
       Then he gave us this assurance: "We will continue as journalists to expose those who cheat and lie to our readers."
       Not only were these two scamsters not exposed in your paper, even though their dubious history of some 10 years or more was there for all to see on the internet, but the dicey ads continued.
         Now Carte Blanche has revealed that both Whoopee and Geo Connect were some of the many creations of the Cholwich-Buys team and people who invested in them lost the lot. So much for their money back guarantees given in your paper.
         One investor was Veronica Diedricks, a 47 year old former Telkom project manager who lives in Krugersdorp. This mother of two teenage boys put her entire pension payment of R250 000 that she had accumulated after 10 years of hard graft into Whoopee.
         She left Telkom because of white and black racial issues which meant the whites had little prospect of promotion and is now a contract worker for Nokia Siemens where she is "very happy." Her husband was retrenched and as neither of them gets a pension they were relying on the Whoopee investment to improve their lives. 
         Like many others she is not shouting whoopee, I can tell you. "Now money in my house is very scarce," she told me.
This was supposed to be a website linked to a call centre to enable people to advertise their businesses at a monthly fee. The men then took huge amounts for the privilege of becoming a licence holder in the scheme.  
Diedricks was promised R60 000 a month after 15 months, but all she got were a few payments of R28 and then last March a letter arrived saying the business had run out of money and was closing.
It had raked in R8-million.
Buys appeared on the TV show in tears as the duped partner who admitted very little. Cholwich was invited to give his side, but never did.
         Both men are unrehabilitated insolvents, who get people to front for them as directors of the companies. They have been going from one failed business to the next. Other names they have used include The Bare Essence, Phone Petrol, Prepaid Online, Duo Dial, Free Talk, Money Call, Dynamic Life and Xtreme Telecoms (its ads also appeared in the Sunday Times).
         A disgruntled former director has created a website for the sole purpose of warning people against the business practices of the two men.
         It claims that the motto they live by is "Fake it till you make it", and they certainly seem to have done that.
         The site, that includes pictures of theses smooth talkers, invites people to join its Justice 101 campaign to try and ensure that these con-men get what they deserve in a criminal court.
        I hope that you and your paper are proud of having helped them to fleece so many people, because without the huge exposure that the Sunday Times gave them, I doubt whether they would have left such a long trail of desperate, poverty stricken pensioners and bread winners in their wake.
         Your disgusted reader,
         Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman, who can’t say, "I told you", often enough.
         P.S. It’s not too late to give these two gentlemen the usual treatment that you meet out to corrupt Government officials and other individuals. The question is: "Are you man enough to do it?"                                     *   *   *   *
      When I told Bokkie Gerber, Editor of Rapport, South Africa's Afrikaans national Sunday paper to look a this post as it applied equally to his paper he replied: "Thanks. These kind of ads are a big concern. I have asked our ads department to take extra care to screen ads and not accept those with dodgy promises."
        His approach was totally different to that of the Sunday Times where no Editor ever admitted to me that there was anything wrong during my three year campaign to get the paper to stop taking these ads.

No comments:

Post a Comment