Press Council's system being 'abused'

2013-05-28 19:09

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Johannesburg - The communications department's "abuse" of the Press Council of South Africa's (PCSA) reader complaints system is concerning, the council said on Tuesday.

The PCSA was responding to department spokesperson Wisani Ngobeni, who said on Monday the council had told the department it would not investigate a complaint of unethical conduct by Sunday Times editor Phyllicia Oppelt.

Ngobeni said the council had indicated in a letter to the department that it had no powers to investigate a complaint against Oppelt.

He said the PCSA's response had raised serious questions about the PCSA's efficacy in dealing with malpractice in the press.

On Tuesday, council director Joe Thloloe said it was true that Ngobeni had been sent an e-mail from the PCSA's public advocate.

However, Ngobeni had deliberately omitted to mention that there had been a subsequent conversation between himself and public Advocate Latiefa Mobara.

"And they agreed that he would send a written argument supporting his contention that she was wrong. The complaint is still at the formulation stage," Thloloe said.

Press statement

Instead of sending the written submission, Ngobeni had "rushed" to issue his press statement, suggesting that this complaint might just be part of a political game that only tangentially touched on journalism.

"Mr Ngobeni, an experienced journalist, also knows that if he is dissatisfied with the decision of the public advocate, he is entitled to appeal to the [Press] Ombudsman," Thloloe said.

If he was still unhappy with the ombudsman's decision, he could appeal to the chair of appeals, retired judge president Bernard Ngoepe.

Thloloe urged Ngobeni and the department to use the system, as it was meant to be used before arriving at, and publishing, illogical conclusions.

According to recent reports, Oppelt gave the DA documents to hand to Parliament's ethics committee, which is conducting an inquiry into allegations against Communications Minister Dina Pule.

Becoming part of the story

Oppelt told City Press she had felt obliged to do so because the Sunday Times was concerned the committee "might reach a finding based on partial or incomplete evidence".

Ngobeni responded by saying that, as a result, the Sunday Times was "no longer just the messenger", but had "become part of the story".

He cautioned against journalists becoming "lapdogs for political masters".

In April, Pule held a media conference at which she alleged that the Sunday Times was engaged in a smear and blackmail campaign against her.

She claimed business people linked to the newspaper had a vested interest in trying to secure a multi-billion rand set-top-box tender and were willing to do anything to get it.

Set-top-boxes are required for the move from analogue to digital television broadcasting.

Pule detailed several Sunday Times stories written about her which, she claimed, sought to project her as a corrupt minister who could be bribed with a pair of shoes.

In the articles she was accused of giving tenders to a boyfriend, meddling in tender processes, and interfering in the appointment of officials to the boards of state-owned enterprises.

Read more on:    sunday times  |  pcsa  |  dina pule  |  joe thloloe  |  bernard ngoepe  |  johannesburg  |  media

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