Appeal Decision: City Press, Rapport vs Bayoglu Vuslat

Tue, Jun 13, 2017

In the matter of

CITTY PRESS                                                                                        FIRST APPLICANT

RAPPORT                                                                                          SECOND APPLICANT


BAYOGLU VUSLAT                                                                                     RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 3159/03/2017


[1]     Vuslat Bayoglu (“respondent”), lodged a complaint with the Press Ombud in connection with two articles: one in City Press (“first applicant”) and the other one in Rapport (“second applicant”).  The two articles appeared on the same day, namely, 5 February 2017.  The respondent himself says, correctly, of the two articles: “Although this complaint relates to two separate articles in two different newspapers, given that the articles are almost identical in content, I will deal with both articles in one complaint”.  The Ombud did the same; I will do likewise.

[2]     The respondent is of Turkish origin, and has been in this country for years; in fact he is a permanent resident.  The gist of the respondent’s complaint was that, in both newspapers, he was described as a Turkish fugitive; a “mafia”, that he was sought back in Turkey for terrorism; that he had smuggled money into South Africa; that they were wanted back in Turkey as part of a terror group.  He complained that by making all these allegations, respondent contravened certain articles of the Press Code.  He denied all the above allegations, individually.  He wanted the applicants to publish an apology, retraction and correction as a matter of urgency, and for the articles to be removed from the News24 websites.  He adds that the articles caused harm to his dignity, and reputation.  He also complained that he was not contacted for comment.

[3]     The gist of the applicants’ defence was that the respondent was indeed contacted for comment.  Applicants also argued that not only were the allegations contained in a Turkish Newspaper, the Daily Sabah quoting the former ambassador to South Africa, but that the journalist also conducted her own verification of the allegations.  She established, i.a with the National ... Authorities that there was an urgent investigation of the allegations; secondly, that Milker took steps not to advertise its armoured vehicles as it was not authorised to engage in their manufacture.

[4]     In his Ruling, the Ombud dismissed all the complaints but one, namely, respondent’s complaint that he was not contact for comment in respect of one particular allegation; that he was a fugitive. The Ombud accordingly held that article 1.8 of the Code of Ethics and Conduct was breached.  A sanction was then imposed.  As it will appear later when dealing with his counter-application for leave to appeal, the respondent believes the sanction is too lenient.

[5]     The applicants now seek leave to appeal, on a narrow basis. The basis arises as follows:

5.1    The journalist telephonically asked the respondent the opportunity to comment on the allegation of being a refugee;

5.2    The respondent denied the allegation;

5.3    The respondent’s denial was carried in the report;

5.3    According to the Ombud, in the written questions or request to the respondent for comment, he was not asked about being a “fugitive”, but a refugee; it is on the basis that the Ombud held that article 1.8 has been breached.

The applicants argue that written questions cannot ... a telephonic interview (in which the opportunity was offered, and not only taken, but the response covered in the article: “Any possible doubt whether (the journalist) questioned (the respondent) on the fugitive issue is removed in the article itself when (the journalist) included (respondent’s) response”. Applicants argue further that article 1.8 of the Code does not prescribe in what form the offer to comment should be.

 [6]    In opposing the application, the respondent disputes applicant’s understanding of the Ruling of the Ombud.  A counter-application for leave to appeal is also filed, both with regard to the merits and the sanction.  It is argued for example that the Ombud was mischaracterized the issues; that the applicants misrepresented allegations as facts etc.

[7]     The argument raised by the applicants set out in paragraph 5 above is reasonable enough to allow their application for leave to appeal.  Less convincing is the respondent’s counter-application, especially on the merits.  I come to this conclusion after reading the Ombud’s analysis and reasoning.  He has dealt with the substance of the issues raised by the respondent in a through manner, giving sound reasons.  Respondent’s counter-application for leave to appeal is also with regard to the sanction imposed by the Ombud.  As I am inclined to grant leave to the applicants in respect of the Ombud’s finding that they have breached article 1.8 of the Code, I think I should grant leave to the respondent to appeal against the concomitant sanction.

[8]     The following order is therefore made:

8.1    The applicants are given leave to appeal the Ombud’s Rulings that they have breached article 1.8 of the Code in that they failed to give the respondent the opportunity to comment on the allegation that he was a “fugitive”.

8.2    The respondent is given leave to appeal against the Ombud’s sanction imposed on the applicants.

Dated this 5th day of June 2017

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel