Appeal Decision: Sean Wisedale vs Noseweek

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Sean Wisedale

Respondent: Noseweek

Matter No: 85/2013

Decision: Application for Leave to appeal to the Appeals Panel

1. The applicant applies for leave to appeal to the Appeals Panel against both the Ruling and the Sanction by the Ombudsman and his panel (“the panel”), dated 18 September 2013. The applicant is dissatisfied because the panel only upheld some of his complaints; for that reason, he is also not happy with the sanction meted against respondent.

2. Applicant’s complaints were aptly summarized by the panel. He complained about a story which was published by the respondent in April 2013, with the headline “Another top sportsman loses it.” The second complaint related to the publication of his reply published in May 2013, with the headline “Wisedale responds,”  as also against the story itself (the second story) which came out with the letter.

3. Summarized, the details of his first complaint were that the story was defamatory, unbalanced, and that he was referred to as being “psychotic,”  “menic” and being under criminal investigation; secondly, he argued that the story had not been verified with his neighbours; thirdly, that he had not been given a reasonable right of reply; fourthly, that the ando recording published on respondent’s websites had been tampered with. The applicant was a well known keen sportsman. He was known for his prowess to conquer Mount Everest, and also as a good motivational speaker. His issue with the story was that it said he was also known by his neighbours as a monster; a monster who made noise for them from behind his high boundary walls, something he could do for hours on end.

3. The second story he complained about was the one published together with his response. This story was substantially the same as the previous one; this point is important because applicant complained against both, and for substantially the same reasons.

4. The panel found that respondent had not given the applicant a reasonable chance to respond; it accordingly upheld applicant’s complaint in this respect. The story had said that, at the time applicant allegedly terrorized his neighbours, he had an 11 month baby, and also that his father-in-law came to calm him twice. Both statements were incorrect: the child was 18 months old, and the father-in-law came only once. On these two aspects, the panel again found in favour of the applicant, and ordered a correction. The rest of the complaints were dismissed, such as that the story was defamatory, unbalanced, based on rumours, etc.

5. The crux of applicant’s case is that there was, firstly, collusion between the journalist concerned and some of his neighbours against him, and, secondly, that these neighbours were biased against him. The respondent justified its story by saying that applicant was alienated from his neighours (as a result of his conduct); they feared for their own safety and that of their children because of his threatening gestures. It said it had spoken with many of applicant’s professional neighbours; that his neighbours had concluded that he was a binge drinker and that alcohol was the trigger of his psychotic behaviour. Respondent also established that the police had opened investigations against applicant. While some details might have been incorrect, they were not material enough to render the story inaccurate.

6. In support of its application for leave to appeal, applicant filed submissions covering several pages, going into some details, often repeating the same points again and again. It took  unusually long to go through these several pages of what was in effect a full and detailed written argument, as opposed to mere grounds of appeal.  As I said earlier, the crux of applicant’s case is that his neighbours were in collusion with respondent or the journalist concerned against him, and also that they were biased against him. I do not see any collusion as alleged by applicant. I do not think that the journalist could have been able to persuade all these people to gang up with him against applicant; one does not see any reason why. The allegation seems far- fetched.  As for bias on the part of the neighbours, I must state that I have taken time to carefully go through the massive documentation submitted. There are so many and detailed reports by different people made at different points in time, that the allegations against applicant can hardly have been inventions; one of the people actually says that applicant spewed out profanities. It is hard to imagine that so many people can all conspire to lie against applicant. As the panel correctly observed, those of applicant’s neighbours who supported the applicant restricted themselves, in their statements, to only saying that he did not throw any missiles; they did not deny other allegations that he was a nuisance. I do not agree with the applicant’s argument that the panel failed to weigh up the evidence in its true context. I therefore agree with the panel that the first story was justified. Of course as regards the second, the panel, correctly, found that it was substantially the same as the first one and once the latter was found to be justified, it followed that so too was the second one.

6. In his written argument, applicant leveled some criticism at the manner in which the panel dealt with the matter; for example, he says that one member was not prepared enough to hear the matter. I find no basis for this allegation, which was nothing more than an inference. He also alleged that the journalist, a qualified lawyer who represented himself, “took full advantage of (his) insight (as a lawyer) and customized his strategy and responses to optimize his presentation.”  Assuming that this was true, there would be nothing wrong in the journalist putting to good use his knowledge and skills in presenting his own case. The other criticism raised by applicant is that the panel did not give him the opportunity to present his case. Again, there is nothing to support this; in any event, applicant did not raise this with the panel. In fact, he did not raise any of these complaints with the panel during the hearing; on the contrary, it appears from his submissions in support of his application for leave to appeal, that the issues he is now raising only came to his mind after he had long left the hearing; in other words, they were an afterthought.

7. For the reasons given above, as also for those given by the panel for its Ruling, I am of the view that the applicant would have no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel if leave to appeal were to be granted to him; accordingly, the application is dismissed.

Dated this 30th day of December 2013

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chairperson, Appeals Panel