Media criticised over response to complaints

2012-03-13 21:11
Johannesburg - The Press Ombudsman has lashed out at some media houses for ignoring complaints about published articles.

"An example of the problems we have with the speed of response is the way The Times ignored correspondence from the Ombudsman's office," Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe said in an e-mail sent to the media.

"We attempted to get the newspaper's response to one complaint from September 12 and another from January 19."

The complaint was about a report allegedly biased against the African National Congress.

Even after a meeting with Avusa's editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya and The Times's editor Phylicia Oppelt "The Times continued to discredit the system", Thloloe said.

"Naming-and-shaming the newspaper among its peers at an SA National Editors' Forum council meeting produced some results. We got a response and an apology from Ms Oppelt and it led to a speedy resolution [of the complaint]," he said.

Later on Tuesday, Deputy Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said the problem was not common.

"On the whole, newspapers rarely don't co-operate in the system," he said.

"The problems we have are the exception, but still they are serious."

In his statement, Thloloe said the complaints system was informal and did not have procedural rigour.

He said a new IT system would help his office to track the turnaround times much more rigorously.

"From now, we will send a publication a reminder that its response is due in a few days' time and if we still have no joy at the end of the 14 days, send it a warning that if we still don't get a response within seven days, we will make a ruling without its input."

Where applicable, the editor-in-chief and the CEO would also receive a copy of the warning.

"We will continue to be informal and bend over backwards to accommodate the slow complainants as they might find it harder to follow formal rules," he said.

"We do acknowledge that most editors co-operate... and respond on time, but it is the few bad eggs that critics will always remember."

Oppelt referred all comments to Makhanya, who could not immediately be reached.

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