‘Moneyweb committed its duty as the Fourth Estate’ – Acting Assistant Press Ombud


Over the past few months, the Nova Property Group has waged a war against Moneyweb.

Nova, through its chairman Connie Myburgh, lodged six main complaints, consisting of numerous sub-complaints, with the Press Ombud regarding various articles written by Moneyweb editor Ryk van Niekerk and journalist Roy Cokayne.

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The rulings on the complaints and the articles the complaints pertain to, appear below:

Complaint 7792: Irba reports Nova to Sars and CIPC
Complaint 7795: ‘Where is Hans Klopper?’
Complaint 7804Seven reasons Orthotouch’s dismal failure must be investigated
Complaint 7828: Covid-19 halts Sharemax auditors’ disciplinary
Complaint 7829: Three former Sharemax auditors, 413 improper conduct charges
Complaint 7830: Nova: Insolvent, or in a sound financial position?

Acting Assistant Press Ombud Johan Retief dismissed all but one of the complaints and wrote in a special addendum to his ruling that Moneyweb should be “congratulated on its fair and balanced reportage”.

The only adverse ruling against Moneyweb was a tier 2 offence for stating in a subheadline of the article ‘Irba reports Nova to Sars and CIPC’ as fact that the Nova group would be investigated by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) and the South African Revenue Service (Sars). The article was changed to reflect that Nova may be the subject of an investigation by the CIPC and Sars. Moneyweb also published an apology for this oversight.

Moneyweb editor Ryk van Niekerk. Image: Moneyweb

‘Insulting language, and deeply insulting’

The process took several months, with the filing of lengthy documents and responses by both parties.

The adjudication process was partly delayed by Retief’s decision to reject all Myburgh’s complaints due to the “unacceptable language” he used in his submissions and the launching of “personal attacks” on Van Niekerk’s integrity. “In my opinion, sir, your complaints are deeply insulting (to say the least) – to such an extent, that I believe the Complaints Procedures do not allow me to entertain them,” Retief wrote in his letter to Myburgh informing him of the rejection decision.

However, Myburgh appealed against this decision and Judge Bernard Ngoepe, chairman of the Appeals Panel, ruled that Nova and Myburgh should be allowed to resubmit their submissions in “acceptable language”, which they subsequently did.

Retief then proceeded to adjudicate and dismiss all the complaints, barring the offence related to the subheadline referred to above.

Myburgh and Nova then applied for leave to appeal, but this was denied by Judge Ngoepe.

Moneyweb journalist Roy Cokayne. Image: Supplied

Memorandum

In a rare act, Retief wrote a special addendum related to his judgments in which he provided some perspective on the case.

In this addendum, he refers extensively to Myburgh’s use of language. “Myburgh’s insulting language, ad infinitum, aimed at the editor, is regrettable,” he wrote. “I want to repeat what I have said all along: His criticism of Van Niekerk has crossed the border – not only was it aimed at his reportage, but he also attacked the editor’s character. For this reason, I initially declined to adjudicate his complaints.

“There comes a time when the office of the SA Press Council not only has to protect the public from the media, but also protect the media from the public. This was such a time.”

Retief also commended Moneyweb for continuously trying to get comment from Orthotouch, Nova and other parties despite rarely receiving a reply. “I have previously, in a different context, referred to the danger of a 007-syndrome on the part of the media. Some journalists seem to think they have a ‘licence to kill’ once they have identified who they believe is a dubious subject – and in that process throw some or all journalistic standards and ethical norms overboard. Then, anything goes. To its credit, Moneyweb has resisted this temptation.”

Retief also wrote that he “cannot agree with Myburgh’s consistent allegation that the editor of Moneyweb was malicious”.

“(He repeatedly alleges ‘utmost malice, to create maximum damage’ on the editor’s part.)

“The word ‘malice’ implies a deliberate attempt to cause someone harm. Indeed, Merriam-Webster defines malice as, ‘the desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another, either because of a hostile impulse or out of deep-seated meanness’. Given the reasonableness of the reporting, throughout, and consistently having based it on credible evidence, I have no reason whatsoever to declare malice on the editor’s part, or on the part of his publication. On the contrary, I see a publication committed to its duty as the Fourth Estate.

“In the end, Moneyweb needs to be congratulated on its fair and balanced reportage, and to be encouraged in its efforts to continue holding public figures accountable to society – which is the reason for the existence of the media in the first place.”

BCCSA complaint

In February this year Myburgh also lodged a complaint with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BBCSA) regarding comments Van Niekerk made during a 2014 RSG Geldsake broadcast.

Listen to the broadcast here.

Prior to the hearing, Myburgh requested that no media, including Van Niekerk, be allowed to attend the hearing. The BCCSA rejected this request. Myburgh also refused to answer any questions from Van Niekerk during the virtual hearing.

The BCCSA Tribunal found that the broadcast consisted of comments that were honest expressions of opinion made on facts truly stated or fairly indicated. No contravention of the code was found, and the complaint was dismissed.