Appeal Decision: Mohlago Flora Mokgohloa vs News24

Wed, Dec 6, 2017

In the matter between

MOKGOHLOA FLORA                                                                                       APPLICANT


NEWS 24                                                                                                         RESPONDENT

                                                                                                 Complaint Ref 3591


1.         News 24 (“respondent”) published an article on 26 October 2017 with the heading “ANC corruption compromised young black talent”.  The article was undoubtedly an opinion piece by the Executive Mayor of Johannesburg, Mr Herman Mashaba. He criticized President Jacob’s Zuma about what is perceived to be his criticism of so-called “clever blacks”.  He also made allegations of corruption under the previous government of the city.  He said an amount reaching R16billion had been stolen through corruption, and that many employees under the previous government had been dismissed and/or arrested.  He said in conclusion that he was worried to see black professional talent being destroyed by the ANC. 

2.         Ms Flora Mokgohloa (“applicant”) lodged a complaint with the Press Council against the article.  She complained that the article was prejudicial to black people; that it associated them with anything wrong, criminal or bad. She said it was racist, and suggested that black professionals were corrupt. The respondent’s response was that the article was an opinion piece.  At the behest of the Public Advocate, the respondent offered to put the headline in quotation marks, and also offered the applicant the opportunity for a response limited to some 500 words; the applicant declined the offer and insisted that the matter be adjudicated upon by the Ombud, Mr Retief.

3.         After looking at the article and the complaint, the Ombud regarded the complaint as having no merits; effectively dismissing it.  The applicant now seeks leave to appeal the Ombud’s Ruling.

4.         The truth of the matter is that the article is indeed an opinion piece.  As far as the heading is concerned, the respondent offered to put it in quotation marks, and, as already mentioned, offered the applicant the opportunity to respond.  The complaint therefore fell to be dismissed.  Opinion pieces stimulate debate in a democratic society, unless written in a harmful, insulting or inciting language; the present one does not fall in that category.  I have read the article and I am unable to extract the things alleged by the applicant.  Does the applicant suggest that the ANC is entitled to destroy “professional black talent”?  If the answer is in the negative, it was not for the applicant to complain, but the ANC.  There are many black talented people who would argue that nobody, including the ANC, can destroy them.  They do not need the applicant to protect them.  The applicant cannot take it upon herself to complain on behalf of black other talent against the opinion piece (written by another black person).  If she wanted to do so, she should have written a counter piece; an opportunity she declined and instead opted to complain. One cannot stifle a debate in a democratic society by choosing that path; you must engage in a battle of ideas especially when the opportunity and space in the media is offered.

5.         For the reasons given above as also those by the Ombud, the application has no prospects of success before the Appeals Panel and it is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 6h day of December 2017

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel