Friday, February 15, 2013

AP Jones Bra Shocker

Dear Ladies,
         This is something you are not supposed to know.
         An upmarket, store that stocks expensive brands like Pringle is selling you bras made for a middle to lower income, predominately cash only chain, with the labels removed.
         At least that’s what’s supposed to happen, one of the owners told me. But oops - on this occasion the labels were left on.
         And when I tried to establish who was supposed to remove them, that’s when the mystery really deepened.
         It happened at AP Jones the 80 year old, family owned clothing shop at Fish Hoek in Cape Town’s southern suburbs that has been patronised by generations of the area’s high society elite.
         Nothing attracts them more than an AP Jones sale. It’s the talk of the town.
         A tennis enthusiast friend looking for a bargain tried on a black Shock Absorber bra made by Playtex. It was marked down from R200 to R89.
         It fitted perfectly, but she didn’t like the colour so the shop assistant brought her a white one which she bought, assuming it was the same fit as the one she had tried on.
         But when she got dressed for a game it was uncomfortable. The fit was different so she looked at the label.
         It was Mr Price’s Maxed brand and there was no absorber for the shock she felt.
         At a Mr Price store I was told that their most expensive Maxed bra was R179.99.
         When my friend returned to the AP Jones shop she looked at the sports bra section and there were numerous others with the Mr Price label on them.
         Furious she spoke to Rick Bing one of the owners and a nephew of the founder. "He went a bit red in the face," she said. "He told me, ‘This is very embarrassing. We got these from our wholesaler and they should have cut the labels off before supplying them to us.’"
         She returned the Mr Price bra and was given her money back even though notices in the shop say, Sales Goods - No Appros; No Returns; No Exchanges.
         The scandal spread rapidly through the tennis club where it was dubbed Bra Wars.
         When I spoke to Bing, who runs the business with his brother Greg, he said he knew about the incident. He then told me, "She’s misunderstood me the way I meant the label should have been taken off. I prefer this wasn’t printed."
         He went on to say they often did stock clearance from factories and, "We would buy it from Playtex or whom ever and usually what happens is Playtex would obviously remove that label so that we didn’t know that it was a Mr Price style and more importantly the customer wouldn’t think they were buying Mr Price garments from us."
         So it’s clear that the last thing he wanted was for his posh customers to know about this devilish merchandising ploy.
         "It’s a style that we carry as a regular product," he went on. "And it just so happened they had 120 units at a significantly better price which we bought and sold on. I’ve taken it up with Playtex today and I’ve had no response."
         However John MacDonald the Managing Director of Playtex denied that his firm cut off Mr Price labels; relabelled Mr Price stock or that they did this for any other brand.
But they did supply Bing with end of range Shock Absorber stock and a similar range that had been made for Mr Price "got mixed up in the distribution area and ended up being sent to Mr Bing as part of his order, although labelled corrected as Mr Price product."
What was Mr Price’s reaction?
Paul Knoop, the Merchandising Direct of Mr Price Sport, appeared extremely agitated when he phoned me. He said things like, "We feel seriously aggrieved. It is fraud. We take steps to close people down for something like this."
In emails he added, "It is for the law to investigate and for a magistrate to rule. Our supplier manuals are exceptionally clear as to protocols that any supplier needs to follow and we cannot just let them sell our stock anywhere.
Strangely enough, believe it or not two similar situations were discussed with our CEO and my MD this week."
However when Rick Bing told me there was "nothing untoward" about what had happened my conversation with him went like this.
Jon - I have spoken to Mr Price and they say it’s extremely untoward.
Bing - Yes, of course it is.
J - They say it’s a criminal offense.
B - Mr Price is more than welcome to take it up with whoever they wish to.
         It was so "untoward" that a couple of days after my friend had seen all those Mr Price bras and spoken to Bing I went there with my wife and we couldn’t find any of them.
         So there you are ladies. If you continue to shop at AP Jones and you see bras or clothes without labels on them I’ll leave it to you to work out who might have removed them and where they might have come from.
         But one thing is certain. I’m sure you won’t appreciate having the wool pulled over your eyes.
         Jon, your Consumer Watchdog who will always expose what you are not supposed to know. 

Note: AP Jones is a one shop business whereas Mr Price is a huge group with branches all over the place and a 10-billion a year turnover.

Friday, February 8, 2013

New Age's Moegsien Williams & a Question of Morality

Dear South African Newspaper Readers,
         I want to share this with you although it concerns a question of morality I would love Moegsien Williams to answer.
         Last year Williams became the 4th editor of the fledgling and controversial, two year old New Age national, daily newspaper.  It is owned by the Gupta family which has been accused of benefiting substantially from their links with President Jacob Zuma and the ANC Government.
         It is keeping its circulation figures secret so it evidently has nothing to brag about and needs all the help it can get.
         It claims to focus on the positive side of news and to only make constructive criticism of our leaders. Could this be the definition of a government lap dog?  
         Ryland Fisher, the New Age editor who resigned after just 17 months to be replaced by Williams, said this of him: He is a respected name in South African journalism and it says something about the New Age that they can attract a person of his calibre.
         He certainly has a long and distinguished career on papers that would have been more likely to attack the South African government than to praise it. He has been the Editor in Chief of The Star, the flagship of the Independent Newspaper Group, and he was also in the hot seat at the Cape Argus, the Cape Times and the Pretoria News. His other achievements include being Chairman of the International Press Institute and Vice Chairman of the South African Editor’s Forum.
         With that kind of background it is hardly surprising that he was a member of the Press Council’s task team that last year compiled a 98 page report ostensible to improve South African journalism.
         But its real purposed appeared to be to tweak the existing Press Council’s mechanism so that the newspaper industry could go on policing itself in the face of mounting pressure from the Government to replace it with a statutory, media appeals tribunal.
         Not having read the report I can only assume that one of its aims was to also try and maintain the utmost integrity among journalists.
         So in view of Williams’ vast experience of newspapers and being an adviser to the Press Council, the question I want to ask him is this: If a freelance journalist submits a story to a paper he is editing, does he think it's morally right to print it under the byline of a member of his own staff?
         A couple of years ago The Star, which Williams was editing at the time, carried splash after splash about the horrific deeds of orthopaedic surgeon Dr Wynne Lieberthal. It was a huge story that I knew something about.
         I was a journalist, turned private business investigator, who looked into the doctor’s nefarious activities long before the stories about him broke in the media. My inquiries related to a life insurance scam so I had thoroughly researched the doctor.
         And having once worked for The Star as a reporter I gave it a report about Lieberthal, which was a development the paper had not yet cover.

        The story was used quite big but not with my byline on it. It was credited to a Star reporter who had done a lot of the previous reports on Lieberthal.

         My name was not mentioned anywhere as the author.

         I protested to the News Editor and other high up members of the staff to no avail. Eventually I emailed Williams complaining that his paper had ‘hijacked my story.’
         I got no reply from him. A senior editor merely assured me that I would still get paid for my efforts, but no apology of any kind was forthcoming.
         It would be nice if Mr Williams would now tell us all if this is the kind of morality he will be following at the New Age and whether he will continue his publication’s stated policy of only recording the positive side of life and only publishing constructive criticism of our leaders?
         Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman

Note: I emailed this to Williams before I posted it and invited him to make any comments he wished. But as was the case when his paper hijacked my story I got no reply. It seems when journalists are in a corner they are as likely to remain silent as anybody else.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Press Council's odd judgments & Steve Mulholland

Dear Steve Mulholland,
         Sorry to see that my Big Brother the South African Press Council has given you a right old bashing about what you wrote in your Sunday Times column, This is the business.
         As you know your paper reported that the Deputy Press Ombudsman Dr Johan Retief ruled that your Johannesburg based paper had to apologise for what you wrote about the Director General of the Department of Public Enterprise Tshediso Matona.
         Retief slammed your column as misleading, unreasonable, negligent, unjustifiable and unfair text. Gosh that’s telling you.
         As a former newspaper top dog it must have come as shock to be told off in such a fashion. But then you used pretty strong language in your column so you shouldn’t have been surprised if it boomeranged back when you got your facts completely wrong.
         You described our South African Government as a vast criminal enterprise conducted by a mafia run, in turn, by dons and their consiglieri.

Faceless Council
        Nothing wrong with that I would say. Everybody knows that’s too true for comfort.
         It seems the mistake you made was accusing Matona of corruption and other wrong doings which you did not substantiate.
         I thought the Press Council had gone into hibernation after there was Government talk a little while back of stopping the Media being policed by itself, something which has been long overdue.
         Nothing came of that, but judging by your case the Council is making a point of giving high profile Government complainants the very best treatment.
         It seems you were unlucky because in my limited experience the Press Council only takes a stand if the complainant is somebody it can’t ignore. You know some sort of big shot or other especially somebody in a Government that is breathing down its neck.
         In my case being an ex-Sunday Times investigative journo and currently the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman was not enough of a status symbol to warrant serious consideration of my complaints, which were dismissed without even an appeal being allowed.

Faceless Council
         In fact being the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman probably disqualified any of my complaints from the start. I’m sure the Press Council hasn’t taken kindly to this upstart trying to usurp its extremely important role of keeping newspapers in line.
         In the Press Council’s eyes it was perfectly in order for a journalist, who had been exposed in Noseweek as a crook, to go on being employed by the Business section of the Sunday Times (see Press Council’s Brand of Justice – Parts I & II -22/2/2011; Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman in Disappearing Mystery 8/3/2011) that you now write for.
         And it was also in order as far as the Press Council was concerned for the paper to rat on an undertaking to do something about get-rich-quick advertisements that the paper was carrying.

Subsequently some of the advertisers had their crooked ways exposed on Carte Blanche and in Noseweek (see Noseweek exposes Dearjon Letter ), but not before they had made millions with the help of those Sunday Times ads that I tried, for more than two years, to stop.
The Press Council’s website lists 14 members of the Council with pictures of only six of them. The rest are faceless including Mondli Makhanya the former Editor in Chief of the Sunday Times whose picture appears every week beside the column he writes in that paper.
Faceless Council
So what are most of them so bashful about? Are they scared of getting a brick through their window or something?
I also see that Joe Thloloe, who was the Ombudsman from 2007 was given an even fancier title when he became the Director in the Press Council in January this year and Johan Retief, who, as his deputy, seems to have been dealing with most of the case work is now the Ombudsman.
Steve it’s just as well there is no Blog Council otherwise I could be defending myself there every week. But with the present ANC Government who knows there could be a statutory, Complaints Council for Blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
I hope this one bad experience won’t put you off knocking everything that is bad about our Government. Let’s face it that could be the longest column ever written.
Shy Jon
Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman