Cape Times, Press Ombudsman Fail to Comply with Appeals Panel Ruling
The Cape Times has run a front page apology to Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, following a Press Council Appeals Panel ruling against the newspaper.
The newspaper had fabricated a story about the Premier hiring a spy, misleading its readers throughout an 8 month long smear campaign.
Despite running the apology in its Wednesday edition this week, the Cape Times remains in violation of the Appeals Panel ruling against it.
This is because the newspaper failed to publish Premier Helen Zille’s Right of Reply in the same edition, as required by the ruling.
The Cape Times instead published an unauthorized and amended version of the Premier’s response, produced by Mr Joe Thloloe, the Press Council’s director.
Neither the Appeals Panel ruling, nor the complaints process, makes provision for Mr Thloloe to tamper with the Premier’s Right of Reply, which by its very nature, has to be a personal response from the Premier herself.
The Premier’s Office wrote to both Mr Thloloe and the editors of the Cape Times prior to the publication, informing them of this. The correct Right of Reply, as signed-off by the Premier, was provided. This was ignored by both parties.
The actions of the Cape Times and Mr Thloloe, raise profound concerns about the competence and impartiality of the Office of the Press Ombudsman in dealing with matters of this nature.
Earlier this week, Mr Thloloe issued a press statement with the false claim that the Cape Times had been granted an extension of time to comply with the Appeals Panel ruling.
In the statement, Mr Thloloe expressed his mistaken belief that he could unilaterally authorise the Cape Times to ignore the time periods set out in the panel’s ruling.
As justification for his assertion, Mr Thloloe referred in his statement to correspondence between himself and the Cape Times, in which the Premier’s Office had been copied.
The correspondence he produced:
- Merely indicated that a lawyer acting for the Cape Times was unable to get confirmation from the Executive Chairman of Independent, on whether their newspaper would be taking the Appeals Panel ruling on review to a court of law;
- Included no request for more time from the lawyer (presumably being of the view that a disregard for the appeal panel ruling by his client was somehow justified); and
- Showed that Mr Thloloe did nothing to disabuse the Cape Times lawyer of that misconception, and simply wrote back “Thank you”.
At best, what the correspondence showed is collusion between Mr Thloloe and the Cape Times in circumventing the terms of the appeal panel ruling.
In reply to this, the Premier’s office pointed out to Mr Thloloe that, in terms of the Press Council’s rules, his actions had been unlawful:
Rule 6.1 - “only the Chair of the Appeals Panel may extend a time period contemplated in the rules”
Rule 7.2.4 - “only the appeals panel which is empowered to make supplementary or ancillary orders or issue directives necessary for carrying into effect the order”.
Rule 9 – which confirms that the Cape Times is “obligated” to comply with a press appeals panel order.
Shortly after this communication was sent to him, Mr Thloloe confirmed to the Premier’s office that the Cape Times had been asked by him to comply with the ruling in question.
Sadly it appears that even in this aspect, Mr Thloloe acted counter to the Appeals Panel ruling by instructing the newspaper to publish his own edited version of the Premier’s right of reply. We can find no justification for this action in the Press Council rules, or the appeals panel ruling.
Premier Helen Zille today said her office will be submitting a formal complaint to the Press Ombudsman regarding the conduct of Mr Thlohoe and the Cape Times in their handling of this matter.
“The press council promotes the self-regulating complaint procedure as a means of offering adjudication that is impartial and expeditious in settling disputes. We are concerned that these principles do not appear to have been applied by the Ombudsman’s office in this matter. This has profound implications for the integrity of the complaints process as a whole. This needs to be addressed to ensure that trust in this process is restored,” said Premier Zille.