Appeal Decision: Lwazi Mzozoyane

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Lwazi Mzozoyana

Respondent: Sunday Times

Matter No: 1031/03/2015

DECISION: APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL

[1]     Mr Lwazi Mzozoyana (“applicant”) lodged a complaint against the Sunday Times (“respondent”) in connection with an article published on 15 March 2015, headlined “Is this SA’s worst campus cheat?”  The sub-headline read “Law student banned from university until 2022.”  The content of the article was that the applicant “was found guilty stealing two fellow students’ assignments from locked posting boxes on campus and passing off their work as his own.  This was not Mzozoyana’s first offence.  In November 2007, while studying towards his social science degree at Rhodes, he had been found guilty of cheating in a ‘Law of contract’ exam and barred from returning until 2010.”  The story went on to mention that the applicant disputed the findings, including bringing a High Court application challenging the ban, which application he subsequently withdrew.

[2]     The matter reached the Press Ombudsman, who handed down his Ruling on 1 June 2015.  He dismissed all the complaints.  The applicant now seeks leave to appeal the Ruling.

[3]     In his Ruling, the Ombudsman aptly summarized applicant’s complaints.

3.1    He contended that the story was incorrect in saying that he had been banned from the university (as a result of the 2007 conviction) until 2010; that he brought a Court application in connection with his second banning; that he owed the university a sum of R100,000.00 and that he had been sued by his erstwhile attorney for money owed for services rendered.

3.2    Respondent contacted him too late for comment.

3.3    The heading was inaccurate, defamatory and not a true reflection of the content of the story.

[4]     The respondent stood by its story.  It argued that it received confirmation from the legal adviser to the Vice-Chancellor of the University regarding the truth of the contents of the story.  I agree with the Ombudsman in this respect: respondent did not fabricate the story and was justified in publishing the information.  I add that it is noteworthy that applicant does not deny the gravamen of the story in respect of both findings of guilt.  His former attorney also provided confirmation to the respondent of the fact that he sued the applicant for fees.  Likewise, the university confirmed that the applicant owed it some R100,000.00, giving details thereof.  In fact, together with the applicant’s story, there was one about a number of other academic cheats.  The topic was therefore wider than the applicant, making it of public interest.

[5]     Regarding the complaint that the applicant was contacted too late, I again agree with the Ombudsman’s analysis and findings. It is clear that the respondent took a great deal of trouble to contact the applicant.  Significantly, he told the journalist on the day of publication to refer questions to the office of the Public Protector, to which he said he had reported the matter; secondly, he declined the opportunity to reply.

[6]     As far as the issue of the headline is concerned, I can only say that it resonates with the contents of the story.  In any event, and very importantly, the headline is framed in the form of a question.  It was up to the reader to make up their mind what answer to give.

[7]     The rest of the issues raised by the applicant are not material the story or the resolution of the complaint, as the Ombudsman has correctly found.

[8]     Reading the story carefully, and taking into account the complaints and the respondent’s response, it is hard to find fault with the Ombudsman’s findings and Ruling.  For the reasons he gives, as well as those to which I have alluded above, I hold that the applicant has no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel.  That being the case, the application is dismissed.

Dated this 14th day of July 2015

Judge B M Ngoepe; Chair, Appeals Panel

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