Appeal Decision: University of Venda vs Sowetan

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Sowetan

Respondent: University of Venda

Matter No: 315/2013

Decision: Application for Leave to Appeal to the Appeals Panel

1.In its edition of 17 October 2013, Sowetan, the applicant, published a story with the headline “Higher Education in a crisis-CEO.”  The content of the story lamented the poor  quality of university graduates; it said that  institutions produced unemployable graduates. The respondent, the University of Venda, being one of the centres of higher learning, did not take kindly to the story. The Principal and Vice-Chancellor wrote a letter in response to the respondent for publication, which was done on 23 October 2013.

2. In his letter, the principal gave a lot of information about the academic activities undertaken by the respondent; it seems this was meant to indicate that the university was committed to providing quality tertiary education. The respondent did not publish all these details; in fact, it is common cause that it left out almost all of them but one, without even indicating that others had been left out. As a result, the university felt that its letter had not been fairly dealt with, and therefore lodged the complaint.

3. In his Ruling dated 30 October 2013, the Ombudsman found that applicant had left out important information contained in the principal’s letter, and, by so doing, violated sections 2.1 and 2.2 of the Press Code. As sanction, he ordered applicant to apologize, and to publish the important information that had been left out. The applicant now seeks leave to appeal to the Appeals Panel against the Ruling and the Sanction imposed.

4. The applicant contends that it was not under any obligation to publish the principal’s letter in the first place, let alone all of it, because it was merely reporting on what the speaker had said about poor graduates. Applicant also submits that while the information left out points to the ploughing of resources into education by the university, the ploughing of resources does not per se provide an answer to the issue raised by the speaker. Applicant also raises a procedural issue, namely, that it was not invited to make submissions to the Ombudsman before the latter considered the matter.

5. I am of the view that there are reasonable prospects of success that the applicant’s contention, that the mere ploughing of resources into providing quality education is not per se an answer to the issue raised by the speaker, may succeed; so too the argument that it was not obliged to publish the letter in the first place because, on this point, we need to distinguish the present case from the one where the story would have been generated by the applicant. It is not desirable that I elaborate in motivation of my above view. Regarding applicant’s complaint that it was not given the opportunity to put its case to the Ombudsman, it would of course be taken care of once leave to appeal is granted; applicant would be given the opportunity to argue its case fully before the Appeals Panel.

6. For the reason given above, leave is hereby granted to the applicant to appeal the Ruling and Sanction by the Ombudsman to the Appeals Panel.

Dated this 31st day of December 2013.

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel.