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Press Council Executive Director Joe Thloloe Appeals Huffington Post Hate Speech Ruling

"The ruling has ignited a veld fire of commentary in the media from practitioners, media freedom activists, academics and the public in general."

25/04/2017 06:24 SAST | Updated 25/04/2017 07:24 SAST
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'Palm Springs, California, USA - April 11, 2011: A screen capture of The Huffington Post, an online newspaper, video, and blog site. Page shown is accessed through the AOL browser on a Dell computer.'

The executive director of the Press Council, Joe Thloloe, has applied for leave to appeal the hate speech ruling against the Huffington Post South Africa.

The Press Ombudsman of South Africa found the Huffington Post South Africa guilty of the publication of hate speech on Friday.

HuffPost SA apologised unreservedly for the publication of the blog titled Could It Be Time To Deny White Men The Franchise on April 13 2017.

Ombud Johan Retief found HuffPost SA to be guilty of a tier-3 breach (serious misconduct) of the South African Code of Ethics and Conduct.

He added HuffPost blamed its editorial sytem and workflow, rather than probing deeper into the racist and sexist nature of the blog.

Below the is full application request sent on Tuesday.

Dear Judge Ngoepe,

This is an application for leave to appeal against the attached ruling by Press Ombud Dr Johan Retief with the goal of getting the Appeals Panel to give a definitive decision that will guide the Press Council in its work going forward. The ruling has ignited a veld fire of commentary in the media from practitioners, media freedom activists, academics and the public in general. Also attached are two of the comments from the scores that have landed in my inbox.

Locus standi

As you know, I am Executive Director of the Press Council, with a mandate to "lead the Press Council on a full-time, professional basis" and to "concentrate on public engagements regarding issues of ethical journalism and media freedom".

This is not quite virgin territory we are entering. The Press Council, through its Public Advocate, already has the ability to initiate complaints. Clause 1.9 of the Complaints Procedures states:

Where, within 30 working days after the date of publication there has been no complaint, but the Public Advocate is of the view that a prima facie contravention of the Press Code has been committed and it is in the public interest, he or she may file a complaint with the Ombud for adjudication..."

In this matter, Huffington Post has accepted and implemented the Ombud's sanctions. The person who was editor of the publication at the time of the ruling, Verashni Pillay, has subsequently resigned from her position and thus may no longer appeal on behalf of HuffPost. She has written to me to ask if it is possible to appeal as an individual. Under normal circumstances, the next logical person to bring this application should be the Public Advocate, but because for the duration of the proceedings before the Ombud, she was the "champion" of the complainants, she cannot now switch horses.

I believe it is right that I bring this application before you in the public interest and in my capacity as leader of the Press Council.

Hate Speech

The Ombud's ruling traverses two sections of the Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media, Discrimination and Hate Speech (5) and Protected Comment (7). The Press Council now seeks clarity from its highest adjudication wing, the Appeals Panel, on how to interpret these clauses going forward. Your ruling would then guide the work of the Public Advocate, the Ombud and indeed the Press Council.

Regards,

Joe.

Last week, Andreij Horn, head of 24.com, a division of Media24, said the company regretted the incident: "A number of in-depth interventions will be, and in some instances, have already been, implemented to address processes and attitudes that caused this situation. The investigation into the incident is at an advanced stage and will be concluded early next week."