Cape Times Violation of Press Council Ruling Must Be Urgently Rectified
The Cape Times has not been granted an extension of time to issue a front page apology to Premier Helen Zille, after making false allegations that she hired a spy.
Despite this, the newspaper has failed to comply with the order, as handed down by Judge Bernard Ngoepe, Chair of the Press Council’s Appeals Panel.
In a bizarre move last night, the newspaper claimed it had been granted an extension of time to comply with the ruling.
They were relying on a statement by Mr Joe Thloloe, Press Council Director, who claimed an extension had been granted. This is not so.
The Office of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille today confirmed that no communication has been received from Judge Ngoepe, as Chair of the Appeals Panel, regarding an extension, as is required by Rule 6.1 of the Complaints Procedures of the Press Council of South Africa 2016.
The Press Council’s rule states that “only the Chair of the Appeals Panel may extend a time period contemplated in the rules”.
The Cape Times is therefore in violation of the ruling against it, and the order to publish a front page apology to Premier Zille, along with her right of reply in the same edition. Monday, 18 July, was the last possible day to comply with this ruling.
Following the Cape Times’ eight-month-long smear campaign against the Premier, the Appeals Panel found that the newspaper violated the press code by using a single anonymous source. The panel further found that the Provincial Cabinet had acquired a once-off “debugging service” in 2010, which is “the very antithesis of spying”.
The statement issued yesterday by Press Council Director Joe Thloloe, claiming that the Cape Times had been granted an extension, is unfortunately incorrect and raises serious concerns about the handling of this matter by the Press Ombudsman’s office. The office was tasked simply with ensuring the ruling against the Cape Times was carried out.
It now appears that Mr Thloloe mistakenly believes that he can unilaterally allow the Cape Times to violate the ruling.
The correspondence he refers to in his statement, merely shows 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 to court on review.
Mr Thloloe simply accepted these internal logistical issues at Independent, and their unilateral disregard for the ruling, by writing back “Thank you”.
Mr Thloloe is in fact prohibited from doing this by complaints procedure Rule 7.2.4. The rule states that it is “only the appeals panel which is empowered to make supplementary or ancillary orders or issue directives necessary for carrying into effect the order”.
As per Rule 9, the Cape Times is “obligated” to comply with a press appeals panel order. This has all been formally conveyed to the Ombudsman’s office in a letter to Mr Thloloe today.
In the event that Mr Thloloe is unable to provide proof that the deadline was validly extended and appropriately conveyed to all parties, with reasons, the Premier’s office is of the view that he has breached the rules governing the Press Council’s mandate in an unauthorised and unlawful manner.
“The press council exists to offer adjudication that is impartial and expeditious in settling disputes. We are concerned that this does not appear to apply to the ruling against the Cape Times. This has profound implications for the impartiality of the Ombudsman’s office, which we will continue to address,” said Premier Zille.
The Premier added that there appeared to be no basis in law for how the Cape Times could successfully take the ruling against them on review.
“The newspaper fabricated a story, and misled its readers for eight months. It is an open and shut matter, and any review application would be frivolous litigation, comparable to Hlaudi and the SABC, or President Zuma and the NPA,” said Zille.