Decision: Application for leave to appeal
Applicant: Oasis Group Holdings
Respondent: Weekend Argus
PRESS COUNCIL: OASIS GROUP HOLDINGS v WEEKEND ARGUS
RULING ON APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL
The Press Council’s Chair of Appeals, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, could not deal with this application as he had previously dealt with part of the matter in issue when he was still serving as Judge President. He accordingly asked me, as a member of the Panel of Adjudicators, to deputise for him as provided for in sub-section 5.7.8. of the Press Council’s Constitution.
Oasis Group Holdings (OGH) lodged a complaint about an article published in Weekend Argus (WA) on 20 October 2012, ‘Crunch Time for Hlophe’, reporting that the Chief Justice was about to appoint a Judicial Conduct Tribunal to investigate allegations that Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe had in 2008 attempted to influence Constitutional Court judges in favour of Jacob Zuma, the future President.
The complaint was in respect of the penultimate sentence of the article which stated that ‘In 2006 it was also reported that Judge Hlophe gave the Oasis Asset Management Group permission to sue Justice Seraj Desai at a time he was moonlighting for the group.’ OGH said that this statement, which was one of three instances given in the article to justify a statement that ‘Judge Hlophe is no stranger to controversy’, was false and injurious of its reputation.
In a ruling based on written submissions from both parties the Press Ombudsman dismissed the complaint in its entirety on 28 February 2013. OGH seeks leave to appeal against this finding. The application for leave to appeal is opposed by WA.
Leave to appeal is refused as there are no reasonable prospects that the Appeals Panel may come to a decision different from that of the Ombudsman.
My ruling is fortified by the following consideration. I do not believe that an ordinary, reasonable reader would assume, on reading the statement complained about, that OGH had done anything wrong. ‘Moonlighting’ refers to the person undertaking the work, not the body for which it is done. The reader would assume that the onus would have been on the judge to obtain whatever permission he required and to disclose his relationship with OGH when giving OGH permission to sue another judge in a separate matter. Any pejorative implication in the word would likewise be taken by that reader to appertain to the worker; for instance, in this case, the judge’s failure to disclose his status as a stipendiary trustee of an OGH-administered retirement fund in appropriate circumstances as described above.
In the circumstances, neither verification nor comment was required. While the incorrect citation in the report of the Oasis Asset Management Group, instead of Oasis Group Holdings, is regrettable, nothing turns on it as the Oasis Group is in the business of asset management, among other things.
PHILIP VAN DER MERWE
5 September 2013