The Press Council of South Africa this week accused the department of communications of being disingenuous about a complaint against Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt. TheMediaOnline reports.
The ongoing saga intensified this week when the national spokesman for the department of communications, Wisani Ngobeni, issued a statement on May 27, claiming that the Press Council of South Africa would not investigate a complaint against the Sunday newspaper.
“The Press Council of South Africa says it has no powers to investigate unethical conduct of Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt and her journalists,” Ngobeni said.
“Responding to a request by the Department of Communications to probe the Sunday Times editor and her journalists, the media regulatory body said unethical conduct by journalists ‘can only be dealt with by the publication [Sunday Times] itself’.”
He went on to question the “efficacy” of the Press Council.
“This effectively means that all complaints about journalistic malpractice must be referred to the transgressors of the Press Code of ethics,” said Ngobeni.
“The response of the Press Council raises serious questions about the efficacy of the Press Council of South Africa, under which the Press Ombudsman falls, in dealing with malpractice in the press.”
Ngobeni ended his statement with a thinly veiled threat: “Parliament is currently investigating all forms of press regulations to help decide which would be best for South Africa. The Press Council’s inability to deal with unethical conduct of journalists may help to inform the Parliamentary debate on the desirability of a statutory Media Appeals Tribunal.”
Press Council director Joe Thloloe did not take kindly to the statement. He hit back with one of his own.
“The Press Council of South Africa today expressed concern at the abuse of its readers’ complaints system by the department of communications,” said Thloloe.
He confirmed that Ngobeni had received an email from the Press Council’s Public Advocate, Latiefa Mobara. But Ngobeni failed to mention that he and Mobara had a subsequent phone conversation.
“It is true that he did get the email from our Public Advocate. He, however, deliberately omits to mention that there was a subsequent conversation between him and the Public Advocate Ms Latiefa Mobara and they agreed that he would send a written argument supporting his contention that she was wrong,” said Thloloe.
The complaint from the department was still at the formulation stage, Thloloe said.
“Instead of sending the written submission, he [Ngobeni] rushes to issue his press statement — suggesting that this complaint might just be part of a political game that only tangentially touches on journalism,” said Thloloe.
“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 Ombudsman.
“If he is still unhappy with the Ombudsman’s decision, he may appeal to the Chair of Appeals, retired Judge President Bernard Ngoepe.
“We urge Mr Ngobeni and the department to use the system as it was meant to be used before arriving at and publishing illogical conclusions,” ended Thloloe.
The Sunday Times and the department of communications have been involved in a war of words lately, with the minister, Dina Pule, accusing its journalists of accepting bribes, allegations strongly denied by the publication.
Then the City Press reported that Oppelt had given the opposition Democratic Alliance documents about Pule to hand to Parliament’s ethics committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the minister. This left Ngobeni saying that, as a result, the Sunday Times was “no longer just the messenger”, but had “become part of the story”.