Sunday, July 28, 2019


Dear Newspaper Readers,
Pippa Green Press Ombudsman
          Did you know that large sections of our press are running their own protection racket unhindered by the Press Ombudsman or anybody else? And a Judge, who is currently heading a media ethics inquiry, is not prepared to consider this decay in our newspaper morality.
          The inquiry has been established by the South African National Editor’s Forum (SANEF) and the Judge’s treatment of my submission does nothing to support SANEF’s claim that it is there to “fight for the highest standards of ethics in the media.”
          The papers involved are the Daily Sun and the free People’s Post community weeklies in the Media24 stable as well as Caxton's The Citizen daily.
          Even Professor George Claassen Media24’s own Ombudsman had nothing good to say about the Herbalist advertisements that appear in his Group’s papers. "I agree with you, many of these ads are totally misleading and even fraudulent,” he said.
          Steven Motale the Editor of The Citizen at the time I wrote my story also agreed that the ads were not believable.
          They have people claiming to be doctors, professors and the like who can win you the lotto, enlarge your penis and do all kinds of other amazing things, almost over night. Some even offer a 100% guarantee. 
          Of course its illegal to call yourself a doctor when you are not one, but the papers don't worry about that. All they are interested in is making money. In the 17 May 2019 edition of the Sun there were two pages of these ads with 10 advertisers claiming to be doctors.
          As I knew the Press Ombudsman did not deal with advertising, another aspect of my campaign to stop these papers lying daily occurred to me. This was the editorial side of these, something this Ombudsman is definitely mandated to deal with, as she is there to rule on complaints against print and on-line publications. So I contacted Pippa Green, who became the new Ombudsman a couple of months ago.
This is typical
of the Herbalist
ads that appear
in the Daily Sun
          “I realise that your office does not deal with advertising,” I began. “But this is about the immoral way certain newspapers give crooks, who advertise in their papers, editorial immunity from having their activities exposed in their editorial sides.
          “At the same time a host of other dubious characters, who don’t advertise, get their comeuppance in the same papers.”
          My complaint, she told me, first had to go to the Public Advocate Joe Latakgomo. A former newspaper editor he was given this job last year to champion the complaints of members of the public, because one of the issues raised at a press commission was that the public’s voice was not being heard.
          The irony was that way back in 2011, when I was campaigning to get the Sunday Times to stop carrying get-rich-quick ads that promised unrealistic returns on investments, he was the internal Ombudsman for the Avusa Group, the owners of that paper. I upset him by suggesting that he was a lame duck ombudsman.
          An article he wrote in the paper, prompted I believe by my complaints, was headed Beware of dubious advertising claims. It looked as though the paper was finally going to stop aiding crooks.
          “These come-ons,” Joe told readers, “eroded the public's trust in newspapers and false advertising, or advertising that makes claims that are patently exaggerated, impact on consumer confidence.”
          He then gave this assurance, “We will continue as journalists to expose those who cheat and lie to our readers.” Nothing happened and it took several more years of my campaigning before the paper stopped taking this kind of ad. I’m sure it would never concede that my blog had anything to do with this change of policy. It did however have one lapse last year.
          Joe left the Group not long afterwards and as far as I know it has not had an internal Ombudsman since. It has changed hands several times in the last few years.
          I told Pippa that I did not think Joe was the right person to deal with my complaint in view of my dealings with him when he was with Avusa and she replied: “I cannot breach the Complaints Procedure by leapfrogging the Public Advocate in the first instance.”
          Guest what: she evidently did exactly that because I never heard from Joe and she effectively kicked my gripe into touch.
          She conveniently ignored what I wrote about the editorial side of these papers, even though this is the part of them that is the reason for her existence. “We do not at the moment have the jurisdiction to deal with advertising,” she told me.
Judge Satchwell
          Retired High Court Judge Kathleen Satchwell, who is heading the SANEF Inquiry with two retired journalists, took much the same view of what I had put to Pippa. She too completely ignored the editorial aspect.
          In my email to her I stated: “The gist of my submission is the immoral way certain South African newspapers have for years been aiding and abetting crooks to rip off those, who can usually least afford it, by carrying their advertisements that are clearly fraudulent. This media cancer has been compounded by the papers giving the shysters editorial immunity from having their activities exposed in their editorial sides.”
          She replied saying: “We consider that your concerns as to ‘fraudulent’ advertising falls beyond our remit. We have no powers to investigate criminal behaviour, which the connotation of ‘fraud’ certainly encompasses.”
          Her last statement was absurd as nowhere in my 13 page submission did I so much as suggest that they should investigate the fraudulent advertisements. It’s patently obvious that this is not something the Inquiry could be expected to do.
          I told her that in her reply to me Pippa Green wrote that they had another complaint from a man who lost a lot of money by responding to an ad in a community paper for a Profit. “We wrote to the editor of that paper,” Pippa continued, “and she has undertaken to help the police investigation and to speak to their advertising department about the type of advertising they accept.”          
          So once again somebody was ripped off with the help of the dubious side of the South Africa press, I stated in my submission to Judge Satchwell.
          I pointed out that Pippa Green did concede, however that: “We agree that many advertisements are problematic and undermine the credibility of newspapers. But we only have the tools of persuasion at the moment rather than instruction because we do not have jurisdiction over ads per se.”  
          She added that the Press Council’s Executive Director Latiefa Mobara had met with the new head of the Advertising Regulatory Board CEO Gail Schimmel, “who is also aware of the problem of misleading ads.
          “Will continue working with her and speak to editors to see what we can solve, but in the meantime, the ARB is the body to deal with such complaints.”
          The ARB replaced the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that was so bad it was liquidated. When I complained to the ASA about misleading newspaper ads I got the complete run around. I was told they did not have the power to tell papers to stop carrying these, as they could only deal with the individual advertisers. They wanted me to submit a separate complaint for each ad that I believed was not kosher.  And I don’t expect the ARB to be any different.
          At one stage the ASA stated it had ruled against Herbalist advertisements "on numerous occasions, and it is hoped that the appropriate authorities will address this issue as it is no doubt causing harm to the credibility of legitimate healers and practitioners and this industry at large." As usual nothing happened.
Former Sunday Times
Consumer columnist
          These advertising authorities, like the Press Council (the Ombudsman is part of this) were established and financed by the industries they serve, so their impartiality is very questionable when it comes to dealing with complaints. What’s more they only have a tenuous control over those advertising agencies and media groups that are their members. They are essentially there to protect their masters, who pay for them and to give the illusion that they are looking after the interests of the public.         
          I ended my submission with: “It’s not surprising that newspapers go on printing the kind of lies I have referred to because the Press Council has little or no power to effectively police the press in South Africa. As the Independent Media (It owns papers like the Cape Times, The Star in Johannesburg and various others) showed, if a newspaper group doesn’t like Press Council decisions that go against it, all it has to do is resign as a member. It then has a free rein to go on doing whatever it likes or in this case appoint its own internal ombudsman.
You can’t get more absurd than having a Press Ombudsman, who concedes that the kind of advertisements I have referred to “undermines the credibility of newspapers,” but, conveniently,  she hasn’t been given the power to do anything about them.
        The terms of reference for the Inquiry that the Judge is heading state that its purpose “Shall include: Investigation of ethical breaches on the part of the media industry in South Africa and those obstacles to accountable and credible media practice.”
Well if ever there was an obstacle to “credible media practice” it was the Judge’s decision to refuse to consider my submission.
Jon, the self appointed Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman.
See also (sunday times at it againlies lies and more lies & 
sunday times will never expose this)
P.S. I wasn’t optimistic that my submission to the SANEF Inquiry would get beyond first base. But if you don’t try you never know. SANEF represents editors and senior newspapers journalists and other people in the media. So I could hardly expect my views to be taken seriously because, if they were, the papers concerned might have to do without a good slice of their income. In my one man, 10 year long campaign to stop papers from continuing to print what are obviously money making lies I sent emails to SANEF’s director at the time Mathatu Tsedu, as well as the current director Kate Skinner to try to get them to do something about this. I didn’t even get a reply. 
P.P.S. The two journalists with the Judge on the panel are described as being 'retired from the industry.' They are Nikiwe Bikitsha and Rich Mkhondo. In an email to Nikiwe I told her I presumed this was done to emphasise their independence. But if Google is up to date she is the founder and CEO of Amargi Media and Rich also has his own public relations company. From what I know about public relations firms, keeping in with the press is very much part of what they do when they want to get maximum exposure for their clients. So people who are still in this business can never be described as being 'independent,' if they form part of a panel that is investigating newspaper and journalistic ethics, even if they were once journalists of some kind and have since moved on into the public relations world. Some might argue that even journalists, who are retired  and are in no business at all, can't be described as 'independent' when heading an inquiry of this kind. I sent this to her on 21 July  and on 24 July I emailed her again saying that if I did not hear from her by the week-end (27 July) I would assume that everything in this email was was correct. I heard nothing from her, although she was 
the person who acknowledged the receipt of my submission.

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