In the Guardian last week there appeared an article headed, ‘Cry Our Beloved Press Council’ by Sello Motseta who was identified as a member of this same Press Council.
In this article Mr Motseta bewailed the state of the Press Council, but did indicate to my surprise that it had been holding meetings. In particular, he referred to a meeting on 23 April 2016 when, on behalf of the absent Acting Chairman, Mr Aubrey Lute, he read a paper in which Mr Lute had expressed the astonishing view, shared with the government, that only qualifying journalists should be allowed to practice. In sum, Mr Motseta appealed to ‘his peers at the Press Council Board’ to intervene. In many ways these were astonishing comments.
How is it possible that these peers had allowed such a situation to develop over so long a period of time? How was it that they had so sat back that by omission if nothing else they had ensured that only the costly legal route was available to the general public when it sought means of redress against the private press. As it happened, I was just one who had sought such redress and my experience had convinced me that the Press Council did not even exist! But here is my story.
In its 23-29 January 2016 issue the Weekend Post included a full-page article titled, ‘Khama’s Serowe ghost house now a heritage site’.
Accompanying the article was an uncredited photo of mine of a derelict house with three sub captions stating that the house was refurbished for P100, 000, that this was where Seretse Khama was born in 1921 and that it was listed under the 100 national monuments programme. This was all so misleading and factually incorrect that I was obliged to try and do something about it. By e mail of 3.3.16 I contacted Mr E. Maphanyane :
Hallo Mr almost invisible man, Mr Maphanyane, and a Press Council that seems to exist only in the mind of the very helpful MISA lead figure, Buyani. I had a press complaint, fairly routine and not very complicated, but was unable to discover if the Press Council even exists. On 15 March 2016 I e mailed Mr Lute: Sir, I assume that at Weekend Post you received my two e mails (not least as at 29 January) expressing disquiet that you should have used a photo of mine and done so (23-29 January) without seeking previous permission, without a credit, without payment and with a woefully incorrect
I also assume that you would have been made aware of my comments in Mmegi (27.1.16) regarding the Weekend Post’s disregard of professional newspaper ethics. But perhaps you were, somehow, not aware.
But I do have to assume however, that you have been aware of my complaint to the Press Council, which Mr Maphanyane of MISA tells me you Chair. Mr Buyani, then of MISA, helpfully advised me to direct it to yourselves. He told me that you, that is the Press Council, had received the complaint and that I should expect to hear from you/them. He further advised me that the Press Council had held a meeting at which it had presumably heard my complaint.
I am now in the unhappy position of being obliged to address you in your dual capacity as Editor of the Weekend Post and Chairman of a very Dependent Press Council. You have declined to respond to me as Editor of the Weekend Post. And, as at this date, it does seem that you, and your colleagues, are also declining to respond to me as Chair and members respectively of the Press Council. This is a very sad day for the leaders of the commercial press who claim to be committed to the upholding of professional ethics. It is also a desperately sad time for the supposedly independent Press Council which, in reality, under your Chairmanship, appears barely to function. Sincerely, Sandy Grant.
The next day I received Mr Lute’s response: Thank you for your query Sir. I learnt about your formal complaint from our managing director.
The complaint is valid and I had asked our chief photographer to contact you and see how her department could establish a professional working relationship with yourself. Your demand was also acceded to, I will check the accounts people on the status of your fee note. Your payment shall be made this week, if it has not been acted upon.
I sincerely apologise if no communication was sent to you Sir. We will not repeat the same mistake. Kind regards, Aubrey. Despite these soothing words, no payment was made until, in desperation, I sought the help of Charles Tibone, a share holder, who kindly intervened on my behalf and payment was finally made on 17.3.2017 which was a whole year, virtually to the day, that Mr Lute had promised payment. Cry indeed for an abject, pitiful Press Council which neither knows nor cares!