The Press Council of South Africa has “expressed concern” at what it has called the “abuse of its readers’ complaints system” by communications minister Dina Pule’s new spin doctor, Wisani Ngobeni.
On Monday evening, Ngobeni issued a media statement in which he decried the decision of the Press Council not to investigate what he alleges is unethical conduct by the Sunday Times. He said the response raised serious questions about the efficacy of the Press Council, under which the press ombudsman falls, in dealing with malpractice in the press.
The Sunday Times has published a series of articles in the past year implicating Pule, saying, among other things, that her alleged boyfriend, Phosane Mngqibisa, benefited to the tune of R6m from an industry event organised by her department.
Ngobeni wrote to the Press Council following a City Press report that Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt had handed documents to the Democratic Alliance so that they could be entered into the record in ongoing investigations by parliament’s ethics committee into the allegations against Pule. Ngobeni said that as a result of this, the Sunday Times was “no longer just the messenger” but had “become part of the story”.
But on Tuesday, Joe Thloloe, director in the Press Council, lashed out at Ngobeni, saying his statement omitted to mention that there was a subsequent conversation between him and the council’s public advocate, Latiefa Mobara, where they agreed he would send a written argument supporting his contention that she was wrong.
“Instead of sending the written submission, he rushed to issue his press statement — suggesting that this complaint might just be part of a political game that touches only tangentially on journalism,” Thloloe said.
“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,” Thloloe said.
Ngobeni was seconded to the department of communications from the Free State provincial government, where he was spokesman for controversial premier Ace Magashule.
Soon after Ngobeni was appointed to the position, Pule held a media conference at which she alleged that the Sunday Times was staging a smear and blackmail campaign against her.
She claimed business people linked to the newspaper had a vested interest in trying to secure a multibillion-rand set-top box tender and were willing to do anything to get it. Set-top boxes are required for the move from analogue to digital television broadcasting.
Pule detailed several Sunday Times stories written about her which, she claimed, sought to project her as a corrupt minister.
In the articles she was accused of meddling in tender processes and interfering in the appointment of officials to the boards of state-owned enterprises. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media, with Sapa
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