28 August 2012

South Africa: Press Appeals Panel Rejects Sowetan's Application to Appeal Ombudsman's Sanction in Favour of Minister Nzimande

press release

The Chairman of the South African Press Council Appeals Panel (SAPAP), retired Judge RH Zulman, has refused the Sowetan leave to appeal the ruling and sanction made by the office of the Press Ombudsman in the matter brought by Minister Blade Nzimande against the newspaper in June.

The Deputy Press Ombudsman, Johan Retief, who presided over the complaint by Minister Nzimande, passed a sanction which directed the Sowetan to publish a front-page apology to Minister Nzimande for "incorrectly stating it as fact in both the text and the headline of their story that he (Minister Nzimande) called political analysts dogs, falsely implying and stating that he was inflaming violence and falsely implying that he referred to specific political analysts as dogs".

Mr Retief further reprimanded the newspaper severely for publishing comment that amounted to "such enormous unnecessary damage to Minister Nzimande's integrity, reputation and character".

The Editor, Mpumelelo Mkhabela, responded by lodging an application to appeal the ruling and sanction, which retired Judge Zulman has refused on the grounds that there was no reasonable prospect that the SAPAP could come to a decision different to that of the Deputy Press Ombudsman.

"This is the most unethical (especially read: unfair) comment that I can recall after having dealt with approximately 500 complaints in this office. Let me repeat: I cannot recall ever having seen irresponsible journalism on such an ugly scale as this. It does not get any worse," Deputy Press Ombudsman Retief says in his findings.

On Thursday May 31st Minister Blade Nzimande delivered a speech at the Soweto campus of the University of Johannesburg, speaking under the heading: "The State of Higher Education in SA: Prospects and Challenges. Part of what he said bemoaned the lack of diversity in the media, with the media "hunting like a pack of wild dogs" when criticising government or the ruling party.

On Friday June the 1st the Sowetan published an article under the heading: "Blade attacks Media", and reported about how Minister Nzimande "criticised the media for a lack of proper debate".

On Monday the 4th of June, a Sowetan Editorial put a new twist to the story of Friday the 1st, now claiming that according to Minister Nzimande analysts who criticise the ANC and government were "just a pack of dogs".

A week later a full-page article by Prince Mashele was published: "Calling analysts 'dogs' is dangerous", with the subheading: "In defending Zuma, Blade Nzimande insulted people" and expanded even further on this misrepresentation.

Retired Judge Zulman said:"I am satisfied that the Deputy Press Ombudsman has properly applied his mind to the matter and issued an appropriate ruling and sanction."

The full Ruling by the Deputy Press Ombudsman in the matter of Minister Nzimande vs The Sowetan can be accessed on the DHET website (www.dhet.gov.za) and the Ombudsman's website (www.presscouncil.org.za).

Issued by: Department of Higher Education and Training

28 Aug 2012

Issued by: Department of Higher Education and Training

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