Monday, May 30, 2016


Dear Readers,
Caxton's Terry Moolman
          The latest edition of the Johannesburg based Sunday Times carries a revealing special report supplement to celebrate its 110th anniversary.
          In it the current Editor Bongani Siqoko tells us: “We have brought down to earth the most powerful for exploiting the poor and the downtrodden of our country.”
          That might have been in the past but is that what’s happening now?
Why has his paper ignored a deplorable scandal that without a doubt is “exploiting the poor and downtrodden of our country” and has been bringing big business handsome profits for years?
The Sunday Times even has it own Consumer Watchdog Megan Power who writes a column each week.
To make matters worse it’s been there for all to see week in and week out effectively bringing the morality of newspapers in general into disrepute.
Under the heading of Herbalists the daily newspaper The Citizen is coining it with advertisements from people fraudulently calling themselves doctors, professors and all kinds of other experts. They promise the poor and uneducated miracle cures, instant wealth and a host of other dubious ways to improve their lives.
All for a price of course.
Even the Editor Steven Motale agreed with me TWO YEARS AGO (citizen's dubious ads) that these advertisements were not believable, but his paper has never stopped churning out these lies.

          Money takes preference over morality at this publication that has a daily circulation of 51 000. Surely by taking ads from fraudsters the paper is just as culpable because it is aiding and abetting them to rip off the unsuspecting, especially when the paper knows that what it is printing is NOT TRUE.
No wonder the South African Editor’s Forum (SANEF), which claims to be “committed to encouraging ethically driven media”, says on its website that the newspaper industry around the world “is often maligned for its lack of integrity.”
Well with papers like The Citizen, that doesn’t even believe in the veracity of everything it prints, you can understand why this industry has that unenviable reputation.
Needless to say as far as I know not a single member of SANEF has done anything to try and stop this immoral practice at The Citizen. In fact when I tried to get comment from this upholder of free speech I got a rude brush off (questionable ethics).
The Sunday Time’s anniversary supplement might have inadvertently provided the answer as to why neither the Sunday Times, nor SANEF or any other newspaper in South Africa has yet had the guts to take The Citizen to task for so badly bringing down standards in the industry.

            Caxton Printers in Johannesburg is the largest single-site print factory in the country, it revealed. “In total, 103 different products, including some 10 daily newspapers and six weekend newspapers are printed at the site,” Jaco Koekmoer, 
CEO of Caxton Cold Set was quoted as saying.
          “These include the Caxton owned The Citizen, as well as many of its free community newspapers, in addition to the daily and weekend newspapers the company prints on behalf of other publishers, such as the Times Media group, owners of the Sunday Times.”
          He said that while they had previously printed supplements for the Sunday Times they had been printing the main body of the paper for the last three and half years.
          So that’s why the Sunday Times and every other paper in South Africa together with all their editors find The Citizen’s lucrative blight on the media is far too hot to do anything about.
          It is even being ignored by the South African Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), a media finance body, that once told a judge that “Publishing misleading  advertising is intrinsically harmful to consumers” and that it was “only the ASA that monitors the advertising industry as a whole and responds to complaints speedily and effectively.”
          So “effectively” that it also lies because when I submitted complaints to it about these dubious ads in The Citizen it refused to consider them (ridiculous asa).
          I have no doubt that if a different kind of business was being run contrary to the public interest the Sunday Times would not hesitate to set its investigation reporters onto it in keeping with its motto: The paper for the people.
Siqoko claimed in that anniversary report that his paper “will remain non-aligned.” But no doubt that does not apply in the case of The Citizen because they are all in bed together.
And those who sleep together stick together.
Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman who exposes media LIES when nobody else will.  

P.S. In the past I tried to get comment from secretive media baron Terry Moolman, Caxton’s majority shareholder, but I got nowhere. (caxton bosses duck dubious advertisng issue)                                                                                         

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Dear Newspaper Readers,
Pravin Gordhan
          The Johannesburg based Sunday Times is using lotto journalism with increasing regularity. This is in spite of the fact that the Editor Bongani Siqoko told us last month, as part of a whole page apology about its so called “SARS rogue unit” expose`, that they had got “some things wrong” and one of the reasons was they “overly relied on our sources.”
          This didn’t stop the paper doing exactly the same thing this last Sunday to boost its sensational front page splash Pravin ‘arrest’ shock.
          How what I have dubbed “lotto journalism” works is this. The paper decides on the most sensational line for the story and then gives you, the reader this regardless of the facts by using anonymous “sources.”
The apology 3 April 

          The most glaring example of this was in its latest episode of its “rogue unit” saga that has been going on for two years. It was about how Pravin Gordhan South Africa’s current Minister of Finance and eight other former South African Revenue Service officials, who were said to have been members of the “unit,” were about to be prosecuted for “espionage.”
          The paper claimed that the unit, which was supposed to have illegally spied on tax payers among other things, was formed when Gordhan headed SARS as its Commissioner.
          In its last Sunday edition the paper quoted the National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku as saying: “It is incorrect that a decision has been made to prosecute anyone. The matter is still under investigation.”
Sunday 15 May
          Keeping that bad journalism clichĂ© “don’t let the facts spoil a good story” well and truly alive the paper then covered itself both ways by falling back on its unreliable “sources” with this:
          “But highly placed NPA sources confirmed that national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams ‘is ready to prosecute.’”
          That made Mfaku out to be a liar.
          The reliability of the Sunday Times’ “sources” was exposed a day later on the Monday when The Times, a daily in the same Times Media stable as the Sunday Times, came out with Reprieve for Gordhan as its front page lead.
          It quoted Abrahams, the man the Sunday Times inexplicably could not get hold of, as saying: “It is completely incorrect to say that anyone is going to be arrested or even faces arrest.”
          The Sunday Times story which ran from the front page onto page two contained allegations and information in no less than seven statements from anonymous “sources” and stated as fact that “Gordhan is being accused of breaching the Intelligence Act for his role in the formation of the ‘rogue unit’ when he headed SARS.”
Monday 16 May
          The trouble with relying on these is that anyone can sit in an office and make up quotes from “sources” to make a story more sensational. And if the paper is ever called upon to prove in court the allegations made by one of these anonymous people it would not be able to do it because journalists conveniently have a long standing tradition of never revealing their “sources.”
          Siqoko emphasised this aspect in that whole page apology, which must have been some kind of record, when he wrote that it was their responsibility “to build, sustain and protect a relationship with our sources.”
          As the Sunday Times and The Times have now given us conflicting versions of the story one of them must be lying.  And my “sources” tell me it is the Sunday Times.
Van Loggerenberg

          In that whole page apology on April 3 2016 that I mentioned earlier Johann van Loggerenberg, SARS Group Executive, Tax & Custom Enforcement and Ivan Pillay, the Deputy Commissioner, both of whom the paper had accused of being part of the “rogue unit” were allowed to have their say under the banner headline: Finally we agree to lay to rest the controversy surrounding SARS and the Sunday Times even though both of them had resigned from the tax department.
          Van Loggerenburg’s statement was headed: ‘Rogue’ unit never broke the law and was very effective. And Pillay’s one put the case against the Sunday Times in a nutshell with: The ‘rogue unit’ narrative was a great disservice to public interest, and made up of lies and distortions.
          On the other side of the page under Our response the Editor Siqoko sort to justify this huge climb down as being an “amicable settlement.” He confessed that in the 30 or so reports that had been in the paper so far about the unit they had got things right but had also got some wrong and had also given incomplete information.
          He blamed their unnamed “sources” for some of the problems and conceded that they had stated some allegations as fact.
          What he wrote about the investigation in general gave the impression that the newsgathering short-comings of the paper were a lot more serious than just the ones that had occurred in this inquiry
          “The SARS story has given us an opportunity to take a closer look at our news-gathering and production processes,” he told readers.
          “We have found some serious gaps. Efforts are being made to close these.”
          In a block at the end of his response he stated that “an amicable settlement’ had been reached with the two men “in respect of various matters before the Press Ombudsman” and in terms of this all Ombudsman (presumably the complaints the two men had made) matters would be withdrawn by all parties. Van Loggerenberg had also agreed not to institute any civil claims against the paper.
          “The settlement is considered full and final and on this basis no further actions will be taken.”
          This latest Sunday Times report names Van Loggerenberg and Pillay as being among the ex-SARS employees likely to be arrested. It now raises this BIG QUESTION: HAS THE PAPER BROKEN THE SPIRIT OF THE AGREEMENT, AT THE VERY LEAST, BY TARNISHING THE IMAGE OF THE TWO MEN ONCE AGAIN, THIS TIME EVEN MORE SERIOUSLY THAN BEFORE?
          Far from laying to rest the controversy surrounding SARS and the Sunday Times this has made it a lot worse, especially if it turns out to be “made up of lies and distortions” as Pillay labelled the earlier reports.  
          According to the story the Hawks, the country’s top investigative unit, had handed over a case docket to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for a decision to prosecute.
          Since the beginning of the year the paper has published quite a few apologies for not getting both sides of the story in various reports and it now appears to have done that again.        
          Van Loggerenburg was quoted as saying he had “done nothing wrong”
 and would co-operate with any investigation.
          There was no mention of Pillay having been contacted and of the other people named two were said to be “unavailable”, another one “did not respond to questions,” while “Gordhan’s office declined to comment.”
None of the three reporters (why you need three for one story is beyond me) doing the investigation appear to have even tried to speak to the other three men named.
As this was not any run of the mill story I would have thought the Sunday Times would have been more circumspect than usual, especial in view of the history, to make sure it go everything absolutely right.
          If Gordhan was to be arrested it was expected to plunge the country into a new financial crisis similar to what happened when President Zuma axed Nhlanhla Nene, who had only been in the Finance Minister’s job for seven months. He was replaced with little known, small town mayor David van Rooyen, before being shifting four days later.
Van Rooyen had his cabinet post swapped with Gordhan, the Minister of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs at the time.
          Even two of the Sunday Time’s own reporters were not happy with the paper’s handling of this long running investigation. Pearlie Joubert resigned after taking it to task when Phylicia Oppelt was still in the Editor’s chair for what she believed was the unethical way the probe had been conducted. This was denied by the paper.
          Piet Rampedi, who with other reporters had gathered evidence of what the paper claimed showed that SARS had spied illegally on taxpayers, took to Twitter under the user name Mr. Putin to slam the agreement that was made with the two tax men.
          “Yes ST’s bleeding commercially. But we're so desperate 4 adverts & 2 please Gordhan that we sell editorial integrity,” was one tweet followed by:
          “Despite a self-serving deal between ST & criminal suspects I believe our stories were factual and can prove in court.”
          As you can imagine these outbursts are hardly likely to advance their journalist careers. Rampedi is also no longer with the Sunday Times.
          To be fair to Siqoko he only became the Sunday Times Editor at the beginning of the year, so the majority of the “Rogue unit” stories were published under his predecessor Oppelt, who was moved “up stairs” as the saying goes.
          Did the way this SARS intrigued was revealed have anything to do with this? My “sources” are mum on that.
          Jon, The Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Dear Readers,

Sunday Times: Impressed with an article that took up almost a whole page in the May 8 edition I decided to compliment the author Mike Behr.

Headlined Oxford scholar’s snub ‘last straw’ for waitress it was about the  R145 000 ‘tip’ raised on social media for White, Cape Town, cafĂ© waitress Ashleigh Schultz after she was humiliated to tears by Ntokozo Qwabe, a Black, Oxford Rhodes Scholar.

He bragged on Facebook that instead of tipping her he had written on the bill: “We will give tip when you return the land.”  This was a reference to the Blacks’ belief that the Whites had taken all the best land when the all White, apartheid South African Government was in power.

His snide remark backfired when the online collection raised more money for Ashleigh than she would be able to earn for years working as a waitress. Aged 24 Ashleigh was two when the White Government was replaced with a Black one so that’s how absurd Qwabe’s demand was.

Unlike some of the reports in the Sunday Times Behr’s article did not have his email address at the bottom so I phoned the News Desk in Johannesburg and asked the woman who answered for his contact details. The conversation then went like this:
          “Who is Mike Behr?”
          “He wrote almost an entire page of your paper this week.” (The staff on the News Desk, the hub of the paper’s news gathering, should surely know who their current writers are).
          “Oh he must be a freelance. Hang on a minute. 
          You must phone our Cape Town office."               
So I did and there Denise Nelson gave me his cell phone number. She added she only knew him as a freelance photographer and didn’t have an email address for him.

When I phoned Behr I almost also got a snub as well.You would have thought I was chasing him for something like debt or an outstanding parking ticket because he seemed so angry.
          “I’m phoning about that article you wrote in the Sunday Times about the waitress,” I told him.
          “Who are you?” he demanded. So I gave him my name.
          “Who gave you my number?” he snapped back.
          “The Cape Town office.”
          “Well they shouldn’t have.”
I was trying to do the opposite of what that Rhodes Scholar had in mind by praising Behr. Don’t worry I’m not so upset by Behr’s reaction that it warrants another online collection.

He only mellowed when I told him I thought his report was excellent and that was why I had contacted him.

His off-hand behaviour was surprising considering he has written for newspapers and magazines for three decades, winning several awards in the process.

One thing is certain however it was definitely not a great advertisement for the paper that had just used him. 

Life Healthcare Hospital Group: My wife had been treated at their Kingsbury Hospital in Cape Town.

Shortly afterwards I received an email saying they had selected her to provide them with feedback about her experience.
          “Please click here to provide feedback,” it said.
So I clicked and got ….
          “Survey. Thank you for attempting to complete this survey, 
          unfortunately this survey cannot be found.”
It was just as well that it wasn’t a ruptured appendix that she had been in for.

So I phoned the hospital and asked to speak to Denis Scheuble, the Chief Operating Executive – Coastal, whose name appeared at the bottom of the email with no direct contact details.
          “Can I speak to Mr Denis Scheuble?” I said.
          “Is he a patient,” the woman on the switchboard replied (Top executives at big firms should make a point of ensuring that the staff below them, particular ones on switchboards, know who they are).

When I explained that he appeared to be one of their top executives she gave me the number of the Johannesburg head office where I finally got hold of him. He apologised saying:
          “We had some problems with this at the beginning of the year, but we thought we had sorted it out.”

I told him that my wife had been very happy with the service she got and the survey was back as it should have been a day later.

NMC Construction Group: It claims to “take pride in setting the construction standard” and at a site office next to a road it is building in Cape Town a notice says: “Safety induction is compulsory before entering this site. We trust that you will partner with us and comply with our safety standards.”

With all this emphasis on site “safety” it’s a pity this didn’t extend to the warning signs it put up on Kommetjie Road near the Masiphumelele township where its road works have been going on for what seems like forever.
View before the sign was moved (left) & afterwards (right)
One of these almost completely blocked the view motorists had of traffic coming from their right as they came out of the car park of the family business of Rodgers Fruiterers.  Michael, one of the owners, told me they had been trying for months to get the sign moved – ever since it was put up.
Front of the sign before it was moved
They got so desperate with the lack of action from the authorities that they even considered chopping the sign down, but abandoned this as they were worried they would get into trouble.

I don’t shop at Rodgers very often but after going there recently I realised that this huge sign, just a few meters from the entrance to their premises was an accident waiting to happen.

As one of the local ‘things must be right’ busy bodies I went to NMC’s office not far away and there the site engineer promised to have the sign moved to a safe position.

Low and behold that’s exactly what happened three working days later. But one still has to ask why the Cape Town City Roads and Traffic Departments don’t ensure that hazardous signs like this are not erected on our roads in the first place.
Let’s face it I can’t be everywhere.

   Jon, a Consumer Watchdog
   who is wagging his tail because
   he doesn't often get such quick results.                


Sunday, May 1, 2016


Dear Newspaper Readers,
          A month ago almost to the day the new Editor of the Johannesburg based Sunday Times Bongani Siqoko told us in a whole page apology that the story in question had “given us an opportunity to take a closer look at our news-gathering and production.”
          “We have found serious gaps,” he confessed and he promised that efforts would be made to close these.
April 3 2016
          He appeared to be only referring the Sunday Times’ investigative and news gathering shortcomings as these were the areas involved in the so called “SARS (South African Revue Service) Rogue Unit” expose` that prompted this massive about-face.
          This was published after the Press Ombudsman (that’s my better half) had ruled that the reporting had been “inaccurate, misleading and unfair.” (sunday times needs a truth drug).
          But I would have thought that what happened in these areas would have made him take a closer look at the paper in its entirety especially as it had carried an apology of one form or another almost every week since he took over as Editor at the beginning of this year(sunday times aiming for junk status).
          This might have avoided today’s Sports section clanger that announced, once again, that nobody seems to read the whole of the Sunday Times before it is allowed on the streets.
          On Page 17 of today’s edition the report of the Lions vs Hurricanes rugby match by Sbu Mjikeliso, which was the second most prominent story on the page, was headlined: Lions given a real whipping by the Canes.
1 May 2016 Page 17
          Then three pages later on the back page (The main Sports page) the lead headline proclaimed: LIONS GIVEN A REAL WHIPPING.
          And there the echo of Mjikeliso’s story was WORD FOR WORD.
1 May 2016 and in the middle of the page
at the bottom it said: "More Super Rugby
Action: Page 17"
          It’s a long time since I last worked on a newspaper and I know they are going through tough times, but do they still have a Sports Editor and general sub-editors?
If that is the case where were they when such an obvious echo was allowed to fall through the pages in spectacular colour as well – at that well known journo’s club, THE PUB perhaps?
          Last year the paper’s main front page lead echoed in a similar fashion onto the front page of the business section or Business Times as it is called.
          Siqoko can’t be blamed for that as the Editor then was Phylicia Oppelt, who got moved “upstairs” as the saying goes.
          You have to ask if changing editors has helped. Could there be something wrong with the management at Times Media the owners of the Sunday Times.
          Jon, The Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman.
P.S. Just as well he’s too poor to buy more than one paper, you might be thinking.