Appeal Decision: Mogale City Local Municipality vs The Star

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Mogale City Local Municipality

Respondent: The Star

Matter No: 40/08/2014


 [1]  The Star (“The Respondent”), published a story in its edition of 21 July 2014 under the heading “Salary glitch may lead to strike”.  The content of the story was that Mogale City Local Municipality (“The Applicant”) had failed to pay the salaries of its employees on time in the previous month and that, as a result, a strike action might ensue.

[2]   The Applicant lodged a complaint with the office of the Ombudsman against the story.  It contended that the story was defamatory of the Applicant in that it conveyed, inter alia, that the Applicant was incapable of managing its affairs properly, or not caring about the interests of its staff.  Applicant contended that the story was untrue in saying that it failed to pay its staff and other payments on behalf of their staff on time.  Thirdly, the Applicant complained that it had not been afforded the opportunity to respond prior to the publication.  It asked for retraction and apology, and the opportunity to put its case.  In its response, the Respondent contended that defamation was not justiciable before the Press Council.  It further argued that the contents of the story was correct and, finally, that the Applicant had been given the opportunity to respond and did respond.  After considering representations by both parties, as well as reading the documents submitted, the Ombudsman, in his Ruling of 23 September 2014, dismissed the complaints.  The Applicant now seeks leave to appeal the Ruling to the Appeals Panel.

[3]   Leave to appeal will only be granted if an Applicant shows reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel.  The question therefore is whether this application shows such prospects.

[4]   A perusal of the letter from the South African Municipal Workers’ Union to the Applicant’s manager, dated 11 July 2014, does mention that there were problems with the pay system; it also threatens action unless the Applicant’s Accounting Officer was suspended with immediate effect.  This was clearly related to issues of pay.  In fairness to the Applicant though, the letter does not threaten a strike action specifically; however, the story merely said that there might be a strike action, which action could quite possibly be one of the threatened ones. There is also a circular, Circular 02/07/14, distributed to all employees of the Applicant.  It acknowledges the delay in payment of the employees bonds, statutory deductions, medical aid and garnishee orders; of course, all these are deducted against salaries to be paid, and cannot be divorced from the issue of the payment of salaries.  Indeed, failure to make such payments timeously could have serious consequences to the employees; they are place in arrear, with all attended consequences.  The Circular does acknowledge the problem.  It cannot therefore be correct to say that the story was false.  What therefore remains is whether the Applicant was given the opportunity to state its case.

[4]   The journalist had submitted questions to the spokesperson of the Applicant, raising a number of questions relating to the above issues; responses were given.  It is difficult to see how the Applicant can possibly succeed before the Appeals Panel on this aspect.

[5]   For the reasons given above, as well as those by the Ombudsman, I rule that the Applicant has no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel.

[6]   The application for leave to appeal to the Appeals Panel is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 3rd day of November 2014

Judge B M Ngoepe: Chair; Appeals Panel