My response to the email from the Press Ombudsman, Mr Joe Thloloe
On February 1 2012, I had an opportunity to make an oral submission to the Press Freedom Commission, headed by Justice Pius Langa.
After my submission, the Press Ombudsman, Mr Joe Thloloe, who was in attendance, offered to investigate the allegations I made about the tardiness with which his office had handled my various complaints. Within two days, Mr Thloloe had investigated the matter – which I greatly appreciate.
He sent me two emails in this regard (click here to read the mails). Below is my response to these emails.
Allow me to start by thanking you for taking the trouble of attending to my complaint. For me, this alone is worth all the effort I have put into this matter. When the big boss responds in the way you have, I gain courage that there is hope for the future.
Allow me also to start by restating what I had already posted on my blog, www.thesbu.com, at the beginning of December 2011, immediately after the ruling of the Appeal Panel headed by Judge Zulman. This is what I said in the last paragraph of my post titled, “The Star and the Press Ombudsman: My complaint and outcome”:
“Though I am still bitterly unhappy about this and all related articles published by the Star newspaper in this regard, I have decided to accept the findings of the Appeal Panel.”
I also wrote:“I decided, in good faith and at great expense, to pursue this complaint, motivated by various pronouncements by the print media that the so-called self-regulation of the media is the way to go. From my experience, it is not working.
“Even the Star newspaper does not take this process seriously. At the hearings I attended, the newspaper representative did not pitch; we had to wait for about an hour at both the informal hearing and the appeal hearing. The news editor had to be phoned by the office of the Ombudsman to remind her of the hearings. On both occasions, a last-minute replacement had to come rushing, and on both occasions, she was grossly under-prepared.
“I understand now they see the Office of the Press Ombudsman as fighting the case on their behalf; they don’t need to bother. It is people like me, the complainant, who are left to try to make sense of all this injustice. I think the whole process was a sham.
“I don’t regret following it through, though. I can come to this conclusion based on my personal experience.”
I note and concur with the sequence of events as articulated in your email correspondence. I note particularly that your last email on this matter was addressed to Thabiso Maseko of Mncedisi Ndlovu Sedumedi Attorneys; this after their instruction on this matter had been withdrawn.
I accept this as a genuine mistake – to quote from your email: “You wrote back and attached a copy of an email you had received from her in which she said she had a telephonic conversation with me and I had said I would respond before the end of the following week to a March 11 2009 letter she said she had written to me. I wrote to you saying I had had a call but assumed it was from Mncedisi Ndlovu & Sedumedi Attorneys and had written to Thabiso in response to it. I explained that I did not have a record of the March 11 letter and asked you to send it again.”
It is also true that I have since pursued other complaints through your office and at no stage did I enquire about the City Press matter. There are three reasons for this:
1. My private attorney had sent a letter on or about March 11 2009, which letter had not been responded to. My attorney has no knowledge of your correspondence to Thabiso, as such, and would not have known that you needed the letter to be resent to you. I do not deny that you may have sent an email to me concerning this letter, just that I do not have any recollection of this email. So, the reason why I did not raise this matter again was simply because I genuinely believed that our last correspondence on this matter had been ignored. This leads me to my second reason.
2. I did not enquire about the City Press matter as I did not want to compound my legal fees. My attorney had written about this matter, and instructing her to pursue the matter (I was of the view that it was being ignored) would have been wasteful expenditure on my side. The legal fees have been very heavy on me; I have been carrying these fees personally.
3. The third reason was the desire not to confuse issues. When complaining about The Sowetan or The Star, I did not want to sneak in a City Press matter. I have tried, at all times, to keep focus on a specific matter and a specific complaint at a time.
All these emails and telephonic conversations, in my view, amount to nothing more than an acknowledgement of receipt. I stand by my view as far as my conclusion on this matter is concerned. At no point was this complaint processed to any conclusion.
In the meantime, I was not just sitting idle. I continued lodging complaints. Some were concluded in the interim.
The last one was concluded in November 2011. It was at this time that I saw the newspaper advert inviting interested parties to make submissions – I promptly crafted my submission, based primarily on the City Press matter. This I saw as an ideal opportunity to recreate the space for this long-outstanding matter to be attended to.
I hope you do understand that at no point did I take this matter to be closed. I have had an ongoing and uninterrupted engagement with your office. At all times, I have dealt with one matter at a time.
I concur with your summary of what happened at the informal hearing in as far as it relates to Ms Janet Smith. Her absence was understandable and was accepted without reservation. But what is still not clear to me is why the reporter, Ms Anel Lewis, was also not at the teleconference facility as agreed. Your office may not have told you that the same situation was repeated on the day of the appeal. So this did not happen once, it happened twice. This for me is less than satisfactory.
I note and accept Judge Zulman’s observation and suggestion that the panel took the proceedings seriously. But I am not convinced that The Star took the proceedings seriously. As I have already stated above, their absence happened twice in a space of six weeks.
I stand by my allegation that the Appeal Panel did not have all the documents at the hearings. This is, however, not a reflection on the panellists; rather, it is a reflection on their back office support.
It is true that the “Buthelezi team then tabled a comprehensive ‘pleadings bundle’ at the hearing, which contained a fresh heads of argument and a whole raft of supporting documentation”. This was in response to the guidelines we were provided with ahead of the appeal hearings. We were requested to submit our heads of argument together with supporting documents. The same was requested of The Star.
We submitted our heads of argument by the deadline set by your good office. But when we got to the hearings, we discovered that the panel had not been provided with all these documents. It is worth stating that The Star never bothered to submit its heads of argument; if they did, these were not provided to me or my attorney. Neither were these tabled at the hearings.
Nothing can be further from the truth as far as the Honourable Judge Zulman’s conclusion is concerned, that, “In my view the complaint smacks of a disgruntled and unsuccessful party.”
I have already stated publicly in my blog, “Though I am still bitterly unhappy about this and all related articles published by The Star, I have decided to accept the findings of the Appeal Panel.”