Some Ombud rulings favour state

2010-08-03 14:50

Johannesburg – The Press Ombudsman, who came under fire in an ANC document as "inherently biased", has recently made several rulings in favour of state institutions.

While the ruling African National Congress criticised the role of the Press Ombudsman in a discussion document released this week, a search by Sapa on the Press Council's website showed that the ombudsman had recently made several rulings in favour of government institutions.

On June 25, a municipal manager of the Ehlanzeni Regional Municipality in the Lowveld, Hugh Mbatha, complained to the Press Ombudsman about a report that he had manipulated a tender, among other things.

The ombudsman dismissed his complaint about two stories, but on a third story, published in the Lowvelder, he found that the newspaper failed to publish the municipality's official response.

The newspaper was reprimanded.


In another ruling on the same day, the Press Ombudsman directed the Sunday Times newspaper to publish a retraction and apology regarding a story about the state broadcaster.

The SABC's former chief operations officer, Solly Mokoetle, complained to the Press Ombudsman that a report, headlined "Fresh crisis rocks SABC – New board members vow to challenge imposition of CEO", wrongly created the impression that fraud and corruption had been committed.

Also on June 25, Die Burger newspaper in Cape Town was reprimanded for inaccurate reporting following a complaint to the Press Ombudsman by an official of the Kouga Local Municipality, Laura-Leigh Randall.

The article revolved around tendering procedures and the municipality complained that it contained inaccuracies.

The Press Ombudsman ruled that the newspaper reported inaccurately and did not afford the municipality enough time to respond.

Efficient system

Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe told Sapa on Friday he believed the Press Council system was efficient in regulating print media in South Africa.

This was in response to an ANC discussion document on the establishment of a print Media Appeals Tribunal, which states: "The mere fact that the Press Ombudsman is from the media ranks, a former journalist, and is not an independent person who looks at the media from the layman's perspective poses an inherent bias towards the media with all interpretations favourable to the institution and the other party just have to understand and accept the media way, which is grossly unfair and unjust."

But Thloloe, a veteran journalist with almost 50 years experience, said the self-regulatory system of the Press Ombudsman had been copied from various other systems around the world.

"The Press Ombudsman's office and the Press Council are functioning well... it doesn't need anything else," he said.

The ANC wants an independent statutory body accountable to Parliament to deal with complaints against newspapers, instead of only using the Press Ombudsman who currently deals with complaints.