Appeal Decision: Sbongiseni Ngcobo vs Daily Sun

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Sbongiseni Ngcobo

Respondent: Media24 Limited t/a Daily Sun

Matter No: 37/10/2014


 [1]  The applicant is Sbongiseni Ngcobo, and the respondent is Media 24 Limited t/a Daily Sun.

[2]   On 18 November 2014 the respondent published a story, with the headline: “Cops hold boss hostage.” The sub-headline read “Commander told to pack his bag and go.”  The story was accompanied by a photograph of the applicant, taken at the police station where the applicant was the station commander; the photograph apparently depicted the applicant packing his bag.  The content of the story was that the applicant was ordered by his juniors to leave the station as they no longer wished to work with him; they had some complaints against him.

[3]   The applicant complaints were the following:

–      That the respondent gave him a wrong first name, namely, “Sthembiso” instead of calling him “Sbongiseni,” which was his correct one.

–      the story incorrectly stated that he got a shock of his life and that he ran away

–      his photograph had been taken and published without his consent

–      He was not asked for comment prior to publication.

[4]   The respondent admitted that it had given a wrong first name to the applicant, but did not respondent to the issue of the applicant’s denial that he was shocked.  Respondent argued that applicant had been given the opportunity to comment, but declined to do so.  Regarding the taking of the photo and its publication, respondent contended that it was entitled to do both: the photo was taken at a public place, to wit, a police station, and secondly, the applicant was a public figure (the station commander).

[5]   In his Ruling dated 18 November 2014, the Ombudsman dismissed all the complaints except the one about using a wrong first name on the applicant.  As regards the latter, he reprimanded the respondent; he did, however, decide against ordering the publication of the reprimand for fear of causing harm to the applicant.  The applicant now seeks leave to appeal against the Ombudsman’s Ruling.  The application is opposed by the respondent, on whose behalf rather lengthy submission, some 12 pages long, plus annexures, were put in.

[6]   A point in limine was raised against the application.  It was simply stated that the application for leave to appeal was filed out of time.  Regrettably, no date of the Ruling or of the date of filing of the application were stated in that paragraph.  This was a bit inconvenient because the reader of the submissions had to page back in search of the dates so as to compare.  I have decided to use my discretion and not uphold the point in limine.  Respondent has not shown what prejudice it would otherwise suffer; moreover, this is a simple matter which should reach finality as expeditiously as possible- an underlying tenet of the process.

[7]   Turning to the merits of the application itself, I agree with the approach and the reasons by the Ombudsman, which I need not repeat.  There is one point I want to clarify for the benefit of the applicant.  It is clear that he was approached for comment.  I sympathize with the fact that, ordinarily, being a serving police officer, he would not comment but refer the journalist to police spokespersons.  This is what he should have told the reporter, instead of putting the phone down.

[8]   The application for leave to appeal does not have any reasonable prospects of appeal, and it is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 6th day of January 2015

Judge B M Ngoepe: Chair; Appeals Panel