Premier Zille Submits Complaint on Press Council Handling of Cape Times Matter
The Office of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has today submitted a formal complaint to the Chairperson of the Press Council of South Africa, Judge Phillip Levinsohn.
The complaint sets out our concerns regarding the Press Council’s handling of our complaint against the Cape Times. The newspaper had fabricated a story about the Premier hiring a spy, misleading its readers throughout an eight-month-long smear campaign. We are of the view that the entire handling of the complaint process by the Press Council’s office fell well below reasonable expectations.
While the Press Council’s Appeals Panel – chaired by Judge Bernard Ngoepe – had ruled against the Cape Times, we believe that the ruling was not correctly implemented by the Press Council’s Director, Mr Joe Thloloe.
The Appeals Panel had directed the Cape Times to publish a front page apology to Premier Zille, and grant her a right of reply to be published in the same edition.
Despite issuing the front page apology on 21 July 2016, the Cape Times remains in violation of the Appeals Panel ruling. This is because they failed to publish the Premier’s reply and instead published an unauthorised and amended version of the Premier’s response, as sanctioned by Mr Thloloe.
Neither the Appeals Panel ruling, nor the complaints process, makes provision for the Director of the Press Council’s office to tamper with the Premier’s reply, which by its very nature has to be a personal response from the Premier herself.
Further concerns have also been raised due to the method by which Mr Thloloe purported to unilaterally grant an extension of time for the Cape Times to comply with the Appeals Panel ruling.
From our reading of the Press Council’s rules, and the appeals panel ruling, neither Mr Tholoe nor anyone else in his office had the standing to edit the Premier’s reply, or grant an extension of time to the Cape Times.
At best, in our view Mr Thloloe and the way his office handled the entire matter shows a gross misunderstanding of his powers as the Press Council’s Director. At worst, his actions smack of potential bias.
“The public need to be able to trust in the Press Council’s self-regulatory mechanisms for complaint adjudication. Employees of the Press Council should be well-versed in their powers, obligations and roles. In our view, their conduct should not be biased, or lead to a perception of bias,” said Premier Helen Zille.
The Office of the Premier has requested Judge Levinsohn, as Chair of the Press Council, to take such steps as it deems appropriate to ensure this does not happen again, and that the integrity of the council’s complaints procedures and rulings are upheld. This is important for all members of the public wishing to make use of this service in the future.