Friday, January 15, 2016

PRESS COUNCIL'S SPECIAL PROTECTION FOR MEDIA LIES

Dear Newspaper Readers,
Susan Smuts
          Lies, lies and more lies in a newspaper puff for itself are perfectly acceptable if they are classed as “comment” according to the Code of Conduct of the South African Press Council
          This was what Susan Smuts, acting on behalf the Johannesburg based Sunday Times, relied upon after I complained to the Press Ombudsman about an Editorial headed Our commitment to the truth is absolute published last month which contained numerous statements of fact that were not true.
          The Council has been the self regulating body for the South African Media industry for the last 40 years and as such has been far from a glowing example of how to administration the best justice. It’s hardly surprising then that its Code of Conduct has a distinct Media bias.
This is what part of the Code, which is an example of baffling muddled thinking, has to say about what it describes as Protected Comment.
          “The media shall be entitled to comment upon or criticise any actions or events of public interest. This is protected even if extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it expresses an honestly-held opinion; is without malice; is on a matter of public interest; has taken fair account of all material facts that are substantially true and is presented in such a manner that it appears clearly to be comment.”
          In this case the Editorial certainly qualified as being “extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced.” So how can it possibly be “in the public interest” to allow this in a national Sunday paper with millions of readers. How can the Ombudsman decide if a publication is expressing “an honestly held opinion” unless he is a mind reader?     
          Another obvious flaw in the Protected Comment definition is that if an article contains those deplorable characteristics like “unjust, prejudiced” etc how can it be “without malice”?
          From my own experience I can conclusively say that the Sunday Times did not take a “fair account of all material facts” when compiling this Editorial.
          It started by referring to a particular investigation the Sunday Times had done and then went on to praise the way the paper in general had always operated with false statements such as:

1.    “We want to reassure you, our readers, and the public at large, that we adhere to and practise the highest standards of ethical and principled journalism.”
2.    “We have always (take special note of this word) been bound by a code of ethics and acted within the law, and have respected public expectations. We have been conscious of and responsive to concerns or complaints regarding anything that appears in this paper as part of our public accountability system.”
3.    “Our journalists, editors and other editorial staff are expected to - and have (another word of special note) – operated within these ethical, legal, institutional and professional bounds.”
4.    “All these form part of our values, ethos and our social contract with our readers.”
5.    “We have never abused your trust, and never will.”
6.    “We will never forget that we derive our mandate and legitimacy from this public trust. It is required of us that we exercise our power, mandate and duty with the utmost care - ethically and responsibly, holding ourselves to the same standards we expect of others.”
7.    “We constantly remind ourselves that our conduct must never be motivated or influenced by anything other than the public interest. Therefore any insinuation that we have been swayed by anything other than the public interest is baseless.”
Ironically within days of this Editorial appearing the Press Ombudsman ruled that the paper’s reports on that expose` the Editorial had referred to were “inaccurate, misleading and unfair.” This alone made nonsense of much of what was claimed in the Editorial, even if my own experiences were ignored.
          Details of these, which I listed in my complaint to the Press Ombudsman, are contained in an earlier post sunday-times-badly-needs-truth-drug.html .
          When I logged my complaint to the Council on its online form I never received anything to formally acknowledge it. About three weeks later I sent an email complaining about this to somebody called Khanyi Mndaweni who was first in the email list on the Council’s website.
Latiefa Mobara 
          A week later Latiefa Mobara replied saying she could not assist me as my complaint “did not breach any sections of the Press Code”.
She referred me to an email she had received from Susan Smuts which stated: “The complainant does not make out a case for us to answer in terms of the Press Code. The editorial, which is comment, did not deal with any of the matters he seeks to attach to it. We ask you to reject the complaint.”
Sorry Susan as most of the Editorial referred to the way your paper had always conducted itself the matters I attached to it certainly did apply. 
Neither email disclosed who these people were. I had to find out for myself. It turns out that Mobara is a former journalist who has the impressive title of Public Advocate. She has been described as the person who acts as the “eyes and ears of those who seek to rectify the injustice of false facts.”
Well she certainly made no effort to do this in my case.
From what I could make out she is the general dogsbody who sifts through complaints to make sure the Ombudsman is not unduly burdened.
Smuts on the other hand is not only the Legal Editor of the Sunday Times but is or was a Press Representative on the Council’s Panel of Adjudicators as well - higher up I assume in the Council’s chain of influence than Mobara.
Mobara didn’t even stick to the Code which was the basis for her ensuring that my complaint didn’t get as far as the Ombudsman Johan Retief.
Under a Settlement by the Public Advocate heading it states that she has to try and obtain a settlement between the parties after getting a response to the complaint from the publication concerned. If a settlement is not possible the matter has to be referred to the Ombudsman for adjudication.
But all she did was dismiss my complaint herself by accepting Smuts’ version.
How questionable is that especially in view of Smuts’ cosy connection to the Council.
The paper’s claims to have been honest forever were debunked completely in 2008. That was when its reporting standards had reached such a low ebb that it appointed a four person independent panel headed by former Mail and Guardian Editor Anton Harber to find out what was going on.
The muck ups had forced it to make embarrassing retractions in relation to some of its most sensational 2007 and 2008 stories.
The Harber Inquiry produced a long list of recommendations in an 88 page report. A 900 word summary of this appeared on the TimesLive website in December 2008, but the paper was evidently too ashamed to let us all see the entire findings.
In 2011 freelance Michelle Solomon’s Daily Maverick’s article Sunday Times and Me disclosed that even through the Promotion of Information Act she was unable to prize the full report out of Avusa, the company that owned the paper at the time and subsequently became the Times Media Group.
She began with this telling indictment of her profession:
“As a young journalist, I am still struggling to understand why there is such a gap between what we, the media, preach and what we actually do and why it is considered so natural.”
She quoted Harber, the Professor of Journalism& Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, as saying the company was “being silly” by not releasing the full report.

“The Sunday Times should set an example for the kind of openness and public accountability they expect from others,” he told her.
He added that he was disappointed that so few of the panel’s recommendations had been implemented.
He and his colleagues had to sign a confidentiality agreement before beginning their work. So from the start the Sunday Times was determined to do everything possible to ensure its dirty washing never got hung out on the line.


This is how Michelle Solomon ended her Daily Maverick
article

HOW MANY PEOPLE WHO DON’T BENEFIT FROM IT WILL AGREE THAT POLICING YOURSELF IS AN ACCEPTABLE FORM OF JUSTICE? IT’S DEPLORABLE THAT THE PRESS, WHICH IS QUICK TO TELL OTHER PEOPLE HOW TO RUN THEIR LIVES, HAS BEEN ALLOWED TO HIDE BEHIND ITS OWN SELF PROTECTION SHIELD FOR SO LONG.
This is the "judgement" I finally got from the Ombudsman Johan Retief via Mobara and my reply.
 It is similar to the brushoff I got from the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) when I
 complained about the dubious ads in The Citizen newspaper 
(http:citizens-aladdins-cave-of.html)
NO WONDER THE SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN THREATENING TO APPOINT A STATUTORY MEDIA TRIBUNAL TO CONTROL THIS INDUSTRY THAT CONSIDERS ITSELF SO SPECIAL.

Regards
Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman who tells it like it is.

P.S. This entire Post of mine is PURE COMMENT, so that lets me off the hook if anything might be slightly wrong, completely wrong or has absolutely no basis at all. This is according to Paragraphs 5.1 to 20.4 of the POOR MAN’S PRESS OMBUDSMAN’S CODE OF CONDUCT.     


No comments:

Post a Comment