Appeal Decision: Vincent Vena vs Daily Sun

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Vincent Vena

Respondent: The Daily Sun

Matter No: 17/10/2014

DECISION: APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL TO THE APPEALS PANEL

 [1]  The applicant is Vincent Vena, and the respondent is the Daily Sun.  The latter published an article on 10 October 2014, with a headline: “Sjambok shock for sex workers.”  The sub-headline read: “Threashed for ‘saying no’ to a councillor!”  The applicant was at all relevant times an African National Congress (ANC) councillor for the City of Johannesburg.

[2]   The content of the story: The story was about the applicant chasing prostitutes away in the Yeoville area in which he lived.  It also alleged that the applicant assaulted them and had sex with them without using a condom and without paying them.

[3]   The complaint: The applicant complained that the story defamed him; that his image and that of his political party, the ANC, as well as that of the City of Johannesburg, had been tarnished.  He said what had been published about him was false.  He also complained that he was being portrayed as being abusive of prostitutes.

[4]   In its response, the respondent says that the journalist held interviews with some of the victimized prostitutes, but who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal.  The journalist had also spoken to at least one Non-Governmental Organization which confirmed receiving similar complaints.  Respondent did, after all, contact the applicant, and reported on his response.

[5]   The Ombudsman dismissed the applicant’s complaint.  This application now seeks leave to appeal the Ombudsman Ruling, dated 21 November 2014.  The application is being opposed by the respondent, who, in my view, was unnecessarily prolific in response.  I also do not understand why so many documents were annexed by both parties.

[6]   As the Ombudsman has correctly found, the respondent presented the allegations as being just that, and not as facts.  This is apparent from the use of the word “allegations” as well as the fact that what was said was put in inverted commas.  It is a pity that the applicant missed the opportunity to respondent adequately to the allegations.  For example, when asked whether it was true that he had vowed to kick prostitutes out of the area, he said the place was not suitable for them, as there were schools in the area.  One would have expected him to deny outright, if that was the case, that he vowed to kick them out.  Also, there is no direct denial that he “poked” them without condoms and refused to pay them. These were the kind of allegations which, if not true, merited a clear and unequivocal denial.

[7]   The mistake made by the applicant in the prosecution of his complaint before the Ombudsman, which mistake was repeated in his application for leave to appeal, was to amass a lot of evidence on his effort in fighting prostitution in the area.  It was as if he was charged with doing nothing against prostitution.  This probably also explains why the applicant thinks, unjustifiably, that there was some kind of collusion between the Ombudsman and the respondent.

[8]   I find no fault with the Ombudsman’s finding that what was reported was not presented as facts, but as mere allegations; that there were reasonable grounds to justify the publication of the allegations as not being baseless, and that the matter was of public interest.  Lastly, I agree that the applicant could not complain on behalf of the City of Johannesburg or the ANC.

[9]   For the reasons given above, the application shows no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel, and it is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 5th day of January 2015

Judge B M Ngoepe: Chair; Appeals Panel

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