Appeal Decision: Tuwani Matthews Mulaudzi vs Sunday Independent

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Tumani Matthews Mulaudzi

Respondent: Sunday Independent

Matter No: 12/09/2014

DECISION: APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL TO THE APPEALS PANEL

 [1]      The applicant wants leave to appeal the Ruling of the Ombudsman handed down on 16 October 2014.  The Ruling was on a complaint lodged by the applicant against the respondent, which was in relation to a story published in the respondent on 7 September 2014.  It seems the same story was published in the Weekend Argus, a sister newspaper.  The headline read: “ R48m blunder by Old Mutual”.  The sub-heading read: “A businessman who chairs a huge black business consortium is under investigation for massive fraud and money laundering …”.  The heading and the story referred to the applicant, who was the Executive Chairman of the consortium.  The applicant saw the story as damaging to him.  His complaint was that “none of these reporters contacted me to ask for my side of the story before reporting.”  Had they done so, he argued, they would have realised that the case was not a criminal one, but a civil matter.

[2]       The respondent’s reply was that they did not have to contact the applicant for his version as the story was based on the contents of the papers filed before court against the applicant.  To this, the applicant counters that even if the story was based on court documents, his version should have been obtained, especially as he had filed opposing papers.

[3]       The respondent also pointed out that they produced two follow-up stories which vindicated the applicant.  The Ombudsman found these articles to be sufficient.  In the absence of any misdirection on his part, I see no prospects of success for the applicant; I find no such misdirection.  I believe that the people who had read the story complained about, would have had sufficient interest in reading the follow-up stories.

[4]       As a result of the respondent’s defence referred to in paragraph 2 above, I asked the parties to confirm to me as to when, precisely, were the applicant’s opposing papers filed with the court; these would of course set out his version.  The date given to me by the respondent, being the date endorsed by the court upon receipt of the opposing papers, was 17 September 2014.  I have been given a copy of the applicant’s filing notice, with that date stamped by the court on it. This would be a date after the publication of the story complained about.  It therefore means that the Ombudsman correctly upheld the defence: the respondent did not have to solicit the applicant’s comments as it relied on court papers.  Unfortunately, this is an established journalistic practice. It needs to be clarified that the material date is the date of the filing of the affidavit(s), and not of the notice to oppose the matter; this is because the applicant’s version would be contained in the affidavit(s), not in the notice to oppose.

[5]       For all the reasons given above, as also those given by the Ombudsman, I hold the view that the applicant has no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel, and the application is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 17th day of December 2014

Judge B M Ngoepe: Chair, Appeals Panel