A group of independent specialist magazine publishers have finally had their complaint against the South African Post Office heard by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC). It has taken six long months to get to this point. Glenda Nevill reports.
The complainants asked Icasa to review their numerous complaints against SAPO as well as the financial and other damage to the magazine publishing industry caused by SAPO’s failure to meet its license conditions, and to sanction SAPO accordingly, the group said. The extended SAPO strike, for example, had a major impact on the publishers’ ability to deliver magazines to their subscribers.
Now, at last, the CCC has heard their complaints. “At the end of the day we are in the hands of the CCC. It seemed like during the course of the hearing they took the complaint more and more seriously which is a good thing, but we won’t know until the finding is concluded,” said Anton Marsh, managing director of Now Media. The Icasa committee said it would announce its findings on the 16th or 17th of July.
Vanessa Jacklin-Levin and Patrick Wainwright of BKM Attorneys represented the publishers while SAPO had three lawyers on hand. EE Publishers Chris Yelland and Marsh were on hand for the group of publishers.
Marsh said Jacklin-Levin delivered an impassioned and “well argued” account of the publishers’ issues with SAPO and how poorly the state owned enterprise had handled the complaints of this group of customers.
“The response by SAPO attorneys was sad to watch. I am not sure if they had even met with SAPO to be briefed properly, they did not submit a shred of additional evidence to refute claims,” said Marsh after the hearing. “Their defense was that they have not been able to submit evidence in response to our answering affidavit, and tried to bring in time prescription, the limitation of the CCC’s powers and impossibility. It was in-line with SAPOs inability to engage and effectively handle themselves as an organisation,” he said.
As Marsh said, Jacklin-Levin handled all defence claims and “took SAPO to task over not having submitted evidence or dealing with the matter during the extended period it was granted by Icasa and the CCC”.
Yelland agreed, saying that in contrast to the “exceptional” performance of the BKM lawyers, the SAPO team seemed “disorientated and dispirited”.
Earlier, the publishers had complained that SAPO’s answering affidavit failed to deal with any of the merits of the complaints levelled against it, and that “SAPO instead raises numerous procedural and technical objections, namely prescription, impossibility of performance, vague and embarrassing allegations and a lack of factual material, which are not relevant or applicable to these proceedings”. They added that the that tone and contents of SAPO’s answering affidavit was in keeping with the “utter disregard” that SAPO has had for the mechanism by which SAPO is meant to be held to account by its regulator, Icasa.
“The outcome on 16 July could be far-reaching,” said Yelland, adding that he was waiting for the CCC’s findings with interest.
Marsh said SAPO had an opportunity to respond but it was “short and brought nothing additional to the table”. The chairperson of the CCC then closed the hearing after one day, saying the matter needed “deliberation and thought”.
The publishers include Brooke Pattrick (Pty) Ltd, Creamer Media (Pty) Ltd, Crown Publications (Pty) Ltd, EE Publishers (Pty) Ltd, Interact Media Defined (Pty) Ltd, Now Media (Pty) Ltd, Technews Publishing (Pty) Ltd and TE Trade Events (Pty) Ltd.
The publishers have held off a class action suit against SAPO, hoping Icasa would “sanction SAPO accordingly”. This could include punitive financial sanctions against SAPO; entertaining alternative license applications to that of SAPO; considering additional licence applications to supplement the activities of SAPO; or even the removal of SAPO’s (currently exclusive) licence, the group said in a statement.
Yelland is giving a presentation at the Cape Town Press Club on 21 July 2015 on the SAPO saga.
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