Friday, March 25, 2011

Porno Magistrates

Dear Minister of Justice,
How's this for a legal first for South Africa. In your lofty position I can’t blame you if you are not aware of everything that happens on the ground. But did you know that it’s perfectly permissible for magistrates to watch porn on their office computers?
          That’s the inference one gets from a story in The Times about what members of the Magistrates’ Commission told a Parliamentary Committee. As you probably know by now this organisation, that polices these judicial officers, revealed that it had been dealing with 21 cases ranging from being drunk in court, fraud and sexual harassment. Two magistrates had been fired; three were in suspenders, sorry were suspended, and the other 16 were still being investigated.
          But the one that stands out because of the precedent setting decision concerned a Pretoria Commercial Crimes court magistrate who was cleared of keeping pornographic material on his work computer.
          According to The Times, Hans Meijer, a member of the Commission told MPs the official did not source the pornography but watched it repeatedly. So that made it okay with this august body.
          Us laymen would obviously not be able to appreciate the legal niceties of the difference between what the magistrate did and sourcing the stuff. Presumably sourcing means something like producing videos of fornicating couples and the like for general release on the internet.
          So with that ruling now enshrined in law, as it were, I assume magistrates need no longer be furtive about watching porn on their computers. They can do it openly even with everybody in the office gathered round.
          I’m not sure if this very generous working hour perk extends to the actual court itself, but who knows the way permissiveness is going anything is possible. Could we have a magistrate looking at a computer screen suddenly announcing, Sorry to interrupt, but the court will have to adjourn for half an hour because I don’t want to miss the climax.
          If you ask me Mr Minister, which you probably won’t, it’s not a pretty picture. You’ll no doubt put me in my place by telling me that as I have no knowledge of the complex laws of sexual semantics I’m in no position to judge. All I can say in my defence is you might be right for now but as soon as my wife leaves the room I’ll turn on my computer.
          Yours knowingly,
          Jon (Former child star of the sexually explicit, The Magistrate caught with his pants down).
*   *   *

Buy my book 'Where have all the children gone?' on
It's a thriller with an underlying love story that defied  generations of prejudice.

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.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lifetime pardon prize in Prison Competition

Dear South Africa's Minister of Correctional Services, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqukula,
          How ridiculous can you and your fellow African National Congress governors get? At a time when we need a lot more jails because the ones we’ve got are bursting at the seams you are wasting taxpayer’s money on renaming 11 prisons.
          You are so out of touch with reality that you believe that the process won’t cost a cent. Was that half page colour advertisement that I saw in the Sunday Times free? At a guess that’s a 100 grand and how many others were there, in papers like that Government supporting rag, the New Age?
          And I suppose it didn’t cost anything to process all the written submissions and to collate the views given at the 10 public hearings that you held all over the country?
          The Sunday Times ad I saw seemed to be an excuse to put your picture in the paper more than anything else. You claimed that the name changes were to foster greater social cohesion among South Africans by acknowledging defining moments, people and places in the country’s historical struggle for freedom and democracy.
          Let’s face it there are already enough jail breaks without encouraging struggles for freedom.
          You went on to say, Members of the public are urged to attend  the public hearings in numbers and to be part of the dialogue aimed at reshaping of our country’s cultural and historical landscape.
          How did you come up with this utter poppycock?
          Who wants to have a prison named after them? And since when have prisons become part of our cultural heritage?
          Anyway as you and your entire Department haven’t got the imagination to think up new names on your own I thought I would give you a hand. Your Party has a well established culture of having its prominent members incarcerated so you couldn’t do better than name jails after them.
          One of the best known is Shabir Shaik, although you might not agree that he qualifies because he has shown a marked reluctance to make use of the marvelous accommodation our prisons provide. He got a 15 year sentence for his corrupt relationship with our President when Jacob Zuma was still the Deputy Head.
          After a mere two years Shaik was paroled on the grounds that he was terminally ill. But that didn’t stop him from playing golf and generally living the good life.       
          Then there was Pastor Alan Boesak who doubled as your party’s Western Cape Chairman. That Commandment, Thou shalt not help yourself to funds meant for charity slipped his mind with the result that he was jailed and released after serving only a year of a three year sentence.
          He subsequently received a Presidential pardon which expunged his criminal record so he wouldn’t have a problem entering the Pearly Gates.
          I nearly forgot about Tony Yengeni that well know dandy and man about town who used to be your Party’s Chief Whip in Parliament. He definitely deserves to have a prison named after him.
          Our Tony was convicted of fraud after receiving a luxury car as one of the perks of being a member of a Parliamentary Committee that dealt with the tender for the controversial arms deal.
          His four year sentence followed the usual pattern for the stalwarts of your party. He was paroled after just five months as a guest of Pollsmoor Prison.
          Another big name you really should consider is Jackie Selebi, our former National Police Commissioner and one time President of Interpol. He is currently out on bail pending an appeal against his 15 year jail term for corruption.
          I can’t under why he’s wasting money trying to stay out of jail when our parole system for those in the know is so unbelievably user friendly. But perhaps the lags in our jails don’t take too kindly to having ex-cops in their midst.
          My last suggestion is Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. This former wife of Nelson Mandela dubbed the Mother of the Nation hasn’t actually sampled your jail hospitality in recent times but she has had enough close shaves to warrant her name being submitted for consideration.
          In 1991 she was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault after the death of a 14 year old boy. Her six year jail term was reduced to a fine on appeal.
          She had just as much luck a few years later with our ANC friendly legal system after she pleaded guilty to a total of 68 counts of fraud and theft from a funeral fund. A five year prison sentence was reduced to a suspended sentence.  
       It didn’t say so in your advertisement but my contact tells me that the prize for the best name is a pardon for life, but only if the winner is a card carrying member of the ANC. The people who submit the other names that are accepted will be given life membership of your party which effectively guarantees them early parole whatever they do.
          Just a word of warning. Whatever you do don’t even think of demeaning our most famous prisoner by adding his name to your motley collection of jails.
           I know Nelson Mandela spent 27 years behind bars but that was under the White apartheid Government when parole was not nearly as fashionable as it is now.  His crime was nothing to do with dishonesty. He spoke out against a system that oppressed the black majority.
       So it would be quite wrong to put him in the same category as the other names I have suggested.
          I hope my proposals have helped and you can now get on with putting up the new names at those 11 slammers that you feel must be re-christen in the interests of nation building.
          Yours sincerely,
          Jon, Self taught Doctorate in Prison Renaming & Cell Phone expert. 

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

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Morals of newspaper columnists

Dear Phylicia Oppelt, Editor of The Times,
          You don’t seem to notice what’s happening in your own paper. So as the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman I thought I had better ask you what your policy is as far as your columnists are concerned.
          Can they use the pulling power of your publication to promote their own business ventures or those of their relatives?
          David Shapiro is a stockbroker and fund manager for Sasfin Twenty-Ten Fund and in one of his columns he blatantly told your readers about the shares he was adding to the portfolio I manage. He punted Rio Tinto, Brazil’s Vale; luxury goods firm LVMH; Nestle and so on. In addition he wrote of the merits of Kindle; iPad; the New York Times and three other overseas publications.
          There were more plugs in that half page of his than there are at Bathroom Bizarre.
          A week later, as promised, he dealt with themes upon which I am structuring my client’s portfolios. Another half page advertisement for his business followed.
          I have purposely steered towards companies that I am familiar with and in some cases I have repeated my choices, reinforcing their attraction, he said. He then tipped the same shares he had mentioned in the earlier column plus quite a few more.
          It was a sickening promotion of Shapiro Incorporated. And if a lot of your readers then rushed out and bought the shares he mentioned their value would have increased making yours truly out to be an impressive financial guru.
          Correct me if I’m wrong Phylicia, but I always thought a newspaper writer who tipped shares was not supposed to be in a position to benefit in any way from the performance of the ones he mentions.
          Early this year Shapiro waffled on about how he had recently visited his daughter in New York; was due to go to Sydney for his son’s wedding; his chest infection; watching TV; a shabbos dinner etc, etc. This monumental ego trip round the world was about as far from his mandate, which is billed as Making cents of High Finance, as the Man in the Moon.
          Your paper published a very short letter once from another reader who complained that Shapiro wrote too much about his domestic life and too little about Making cents of High Finance.
          Please Phylicia, if he can’t stick to the subject and give us impartial advice you should tell him to go and Twitter somewhere else.
          Then you had Peter Delmar getting on the advertising bandwagon in his column under the impressive headline Our minor is major talent. His mandate is It’s a small world, so he can’t be faulted on that score. Of course Peter is not in the same self promotion league as your David, but the principle remains the same.
          He devoted his entire column, which occupies the same position and space as Shapiro’s, to praising the major new musical talent of his 15 year old goddaughter. She goes to a posh private school so her parents are wealthy and they stumped up R25 000 to produce the girl’s first 500 CDs. The family was in the process of selling the albums at R100 a shot.
          For a brief moment Peter’s conscience awoke because he wrote that the girl merits a mention (nepotism aside). Some mention; this advertisement would have cost anybody else more than 60 grand. And no doubt sales of the CD have been given a huge boost.
          As an added bonus both Shapiro and Delmar got paid to write these puffs in this expensive space that they helped themselves to for free.
       Now that I have brought this ethical question to the fore perhaps you could let me know Phylicia, what you are going to do about it.
          Yours truly,
PS. Mondli Makhanya, your overall Group Editor, had this to say about columns, You hand over a piece of real estate to the columnist. The onus is then on the columnist to treat the space with responsibility and not abuse that freedom from interference. Do you think these two did that Phylicia?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Racial insults pass sleeping editors

Dear Mondli Makhanya, Big Shot Editor and Sunday Times Columinist,
          Don’t you ever learn at the Avusa Group of newspapers (Sunday Times, The Times, Sowetan, Sunday World etc)? Columnists are by nature controversial so editors shouldn’t blindly trust them to do the right thing.
          Before columns are printed the editor or one of his deputies should read them to make sure that they have not over stepped the mark. But this doesn’t seem to be the norm at Avusa and as a result you keep putting your foot in racial quicksand and ending up floundering around with pathetic excuses.
          Three years ago that whitey, David Bullard got his marching orders from the Sunday Times. His crime was that he insulted Blacks in his Out to Lunch column.
          Mondli you were the Black editor of the paper at the time and you apologised saying, We were complicit in disseminating his Stone Age philosophies.  
        As you know your paper is big on investigations so how come he was writing for you for 14 years before you found that out?
          Well if you don’t mind me saying so Mondli you still have Stone Age editing on the papers in your group
          Nothing has changed since that 2008 boo boo even though you have moved up the ranks to become the Big Chief Editor of your entire Group.
          This time it was Kuli Roberts, a Black columnist, on the Sunday World who let her prejudices get the better of her without her Editor, Wally Mbhele, noticing until the Twitter hit the fan.
          She accused our Coloured population of all manner of diabolical behaviour. From being nuts; very violent as if Blacks are not; breeding like rabbits and having girls who are more obsessed with naai majiene than any other race. In other words sure bet, shaggers.
          If the African National Congress controlled Government is hoping to regain the Western Cape which is essentially Coloured, in the coming Municipal Elections, the oppositon Democratic Alliance must only wish that Kuli was still an ANC spokesman there?
          According to The Times, Wally awoke at the Sunday World with this inane gem, Though I recognise the right of columnists to express their opinions without fear or favour, these should not amount to prejudice.
          Have you ever read a column that hasn’t got an element of prejudice in it?
          Her’s, appropriately called Bitch’s Brew, was promptly axed.
       So much for those well worn, press clich├ęs without fear or favour or publish and be damned.
          The aptly named Wally apologised and you added, Avusa Media will not allow any of its titles to disseminate prejudicial commentary that reinforces divisions and entrenches racial stereotypes.
          You’re a fine one to talk. Only a few weeks earlier your regular column in the Sunday Times was headed Healing its racial scars remains the Western Cape’s biggest problem.
          It was all about how Blacks felt out of place in Cape Town and that the racial discord in that part of the country requires action before it becomes a destructive wave. You didn’t say what action, but how about sending some Zulu Impis down to teach the Coloured Capies how to behave.
          The fact that you got the wrong end of the stick completely is something I will deal with at another time.
          The Western Cape, you said, remains out of step with South Africa’s march towards a non-racial society. What March? The Government for a start is making sure it doesn't go anywhere.
          Not half as out of step as your newspapers where the editors are snoozing while columnists have a field day with their racial prejudices.
          Did Kuli perhaps get the idea of knocking the Coloureds from that column of yours?  Could it have been a case of follow my leader with Kuli trying to impress by making it a lot more vicious this time?
          I see the statement your Group issued admitted that Kuli’s attack on the Coloureds was a clear violation of the South African Press Code and Avusa’s Media’s internal codes.

          I don’t know about the Press Code, but as I have often pointed out on my blog, newspapers in your Group don’t take much notice of your own internal codes and this is just another much more disturbing example of that.
          Can you tell me this? Will Kuli get fired by all the papers in your Group in the same way that Bullard got dismissed or will her Blackness save her?
          She has quite a media pedigree. She is or was Deputy Editor of the Sunday World; presents SABC’s TV reality show What not to wear and she also writes a social column in The Times. Could this also make her too big to boot?
          I suggest you warn Kuli, as she doesn’t seem to know much about these things, that if she ever writes another column she should never refer to an Indian as Kuli. It’s too close for comfort.
          Yours respectfully,
          Jon, former Sunday Times columnist in the days when Editors were not asleep at their desks.
PS. Watch out for Morals of Newspaper Columnists on my Blog.