Appeal Decision of the Appeals Panel: Stratcol Ltd vs Moneyweb

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Stratcol Ltd

Respondent: Moneyweb

1.    This ruling is based on written submissions by Mr Julius Cobbett (Appellant), financial journalist for Moneyweb, and Mr Hennie Heymans (Respondent), CEO of StratCol Ltd as well as on a hearing that was held on 01 October 2014 in Johannesburg.

2.    The appellant, Julius Cobbett, was given leave to appeal the Ruling of the Ombudsman, dated 7 April 2014. The Ruling was based on complaints filed by StratCol Ltd against an article by Moneyweb, headlined “I lost R33 000 to doggy debit orders- businessman” and published on the 5th of February 2014.

3.    The Press Ombudsman found against Moneyweb arguing that it was in breach of following sections of the Press Code:

  • 2.5: “A publication shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication…”; and
  • 4.2: “The press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving…reputation.”

4.    The appellant stated that the decision of the Ombudsman was based on a single statement in the article, reading “Despite its poor record, PC3 remains a client of debit-order company Stratcol. This grants it access to the banking system through StratCol’s sponsor bank ABSA”. Mr Cobbett argued that this sentence needed to be looked at in the context of extensive reporting on the matter.

5.    Mr Cobbett further stated that the sentence that is disputed is an opinion and not stated as a fact, which means that Section 7 of the Press Code, dealing with comment, is applicable. He argued that as it is comment, the press code does not require the writer to seek comment from the party written about.

6.    Mr Cobbett argued that the opinion is justifiable because StratCol does not deny that Platinum Credit Card Corporation (PC3) is still their client. StratCol does not also deny that (PC3) has a poor record.

7.    In response, StratCol argued that at the previous hearing, they (StratCol) wanted to argue that in addition to other breaches, Moneyweb had also breached Section 7 of the Press Code. However the Ombudsman informed StratCol that the section deals exclusively with opinion pieces and not hard news, and was thus not applicable. Moneyweb did not object to this at the hearing.  Stratcol argued that Moneyweb cannot use section 7 of the Press Code at this stage, having previously argued on the basis that the article falls under the category of reportage.

8.    Having considered the various arguments, the Appeals Panel of the Press Council of SA finds that the article needs to be seen as a whole, and that it is artificial to extract one sentence and categorise it as comment. Taken as a whole, the article clearly constitutes critical reportage, and the requirement to seek the comment of the subjects of such reportage is entirely appropriate to the situation.   Various other arguments were made in papers and during the hearing, but this is the nub of the matter.

9.    Accordingly, the Appeals Panel dismisses the appeal and confirms the Ombudsman’s finding that Moneyweb’s report,  headlined “I lost R33 000 to doggy debit orders- businessman” and published on the 5th of February 2014, was in breach of section 2.5 and 4.2 of the Press Code.  The panel also confirms the sanctions imposed.

Dated: 26 November 2014

Appeals Panel:

Judge Bernard Ngoepe, Ms Carol Mohlala & Prof Franz Krüger