The department of communications is “outraged” by a press ombudsman ruling that cleared the Sunday Times of violations of the South African press code and will appeal the decision, communications minister Dina Pule’s spin doctor, Wisani Ngobeni, said on Monday.
On Saturday, press ombudsman Johan Retief dismissed three complaints laid by Pule against the Sunday Times related to the newspaper’s reporting and its decision to hand over information to Democratic Alliance MP Dianne Kohler Barnard related to a parliamentary committee investigation into allegations against the controversial minister.
Ngobeni says the department of communications will apply for leave to appeal the decision of the press ombudsman to the chairman of the South African Press Adjudication Panel, judge Bernard Ngoepe, later this week.
“The Sunday Times has not explained why it sent information it believed to be in the public interest anonymously to a political party,” Ngobeni said in a statement. “The Sunday Times has not produced any evidence to show that it had, indeed, provided the information to other political parties as well. There are no political parties that have come out to say that they had approached the Sunday Times for information related to the probe on minister Pule.
“We call on the political parties that the Sunday Times claim approached them for information to comment on this serious allegation. The role of the members of this committee is supposed to be that of independent mediators, akin to a judge,” the statement said.
“They also need to explain why they approached sources when that role is reserved for the registrar of the committee, who acts as a prosecutor. The Sunday Times has never explained why submitting information to the registrar was never a suitable option for them to exercise what they believed to be in the public interest.
“The press ombudsman’s decision is unfortunate and cannot go unchallenged,” Ngobeni said. “The ruling … amounts to nothing but a treacherous whitewash attempt to legitimise [the] unethical journalism … of the Sunday Times editor. It sets a very dangerous precedent for the South African media.
“No amount of spin will change the fact that the Sunday Times editor was wrong to have covertly submitted information to Kohler Barnard or the ethics committee as the press ombudsman seems to believe,” he added.
“It remains our firm belief that the Sunday Times editor behaved unethically and compromised the independence [of] the newspaper by assisting a member of the opposition or the ethics committee with information,” Ngobeni said. “The Sunday Times’s independence and credibility has been jeopardised by an editor who was evidently willing to be an informant of a parliamentary inquiry. The fact of the matter is that the Sunday Times editor was used by Kohler Barnard or the ethics committee as information gatherer. This practice cannot be allowed to prevail in the South African media.
“The press ombudsman’s ruling shows that the Sunday Times matter is providing (sic) to be an acid test on the effectiveness of the self-regulatory system of the South African media. Any attempt to legitimise such unethical conduct will undoubtedly collapse the self-regulatory system of the media.” — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media