Ombud investigates complaints against IMG
The Independent Media Group (IMG) has come under fire from South African Jewish groups for an “anti-Israel bias” in their editorial coverage in recent weeks. At least four separate complaints have been lodged against The Cape Times and The Star with the Press Council, by SA Jewry.
The complaints are associated with the veracity of their reporting of a supposed South African Police Service arrest warrant [on behest of Interpol] for four Israeli Defence Forces commanders involved in the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in 2010, as well as over the policy of the Cape Times with regard to its letters to the editor.
“Not for the first time, local anti-Israel activists have been caught in a lie,” was the headline of a joint letter to the Jewish community last week from the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation.
This week, Jeff Katz, newly-elected national chairman of the SAJBD, joined SAIPAC’s David Hersch and Sydney Kaye in raising complaints, confirmed by the public advocate for the Press Council and Press Ombudsman, Latiefa Mobara, to Jewish Report. More complaints are expected.
Mobara said that an investigation had now been initiated.
IMG has also launched its own internal inquiry. Dr Iqbal Survé, who heads up IMG and its parent, Sekunjalo Investments Holdings, was overseas last week. “I have been contacted by various members of the Jewish community about this article,” Survé told Jewish Report editor Vanessa Valkin. He had asked his chief of staff at IMG, Zenariah Barends, to do a review of the coverage and to check for accuracy in the reporting and if there has been bias.
“A story has to be balanced and provide all points of view,” Barends told Jewish Report. “And we are reviewing our coverage for that.” On Survé’s return this week, there was to be a report compiled for him with her findings.
The brouhaha on the Mavi Marmara episode started when IMG’s group foreign editor, Shannon Ebrahim, ran a front page story in the Cape Times and other IMG dailies, as well as on their IOL.co.za website.
Ebrahim, has written that Independent had had sight of the Interpol warrants.
‘Malicious gossip’ said SAPS
This annoyed the communications department of the SA Police Service (SAPS) and its elite Hawks unit for two weeks. The police spokesman variously accused anti-Israel activists and IMG of “malicious gossip”, “hogwash” and leaving the SAPS “dumbfounded” as they were sent scurrying for documents that now appear not to have existed.
The Board and Fed went as far in their statement as to say that it can now safely be concluded that the “written proof” about the arrest warrants does not exist. “This became quite clear at a press conference, convened by the Media Review Network and Palestine Solidarity Alliance,” they said.
The IMG stories had quoted the anti-Israel lobbyists as promising that this documentation would be made public at this event, said the joint statement, “but nothing whatever was produced in the end”.
The joint statement concluded that, once again, “local anti-Israel extremists have been shown to have deliberately misrepresented the facts in order to push their obsessive agenda against the Jewish State… This shows not only a flagrant lack of integrity on their part, but a contemptuous disregard for the South African public as a whole.”
Mobara explained the process: The complaints are sent to the media [group] who is required to respond within seven days. The replies are then forwarded to the complainants who can, if still unhappy, refer the matter to the Press Ombud for adjudication.
The Ombud can, in turn, either issue a ruling on the evidence, or call a hearing which will issue a ruling.
Should the Ombud rule in favour of the complainant(s), an instruction will be issued to the newspaper(s) regarding remedial action they must take. If the complainant(s) is/are not happy with the outcome, there remains as a last resort an appeal to the Appeals Panel headed by a retired justice.
On the issue of the complaint about the Cape Times’ apparent policy regarding letters to the editor, Mobara confirmed that she had assisted Pam Koonin of Cape Town who sent a letter to the editor of the Cape Times for publication on Sunday September 27 (which was never published).
Koonin did, however, receive an e-mail response to her letter the following day from anti-Israel lobbyist Terry Crawford-Browne.
“I was very annoyed about it,” Koonin told Jewish Report. She contacted the Ombud and received a call from Mobara who explained that she could do nothing about it as it [the letter] had never appeared in print.
Referred to Sekunjalo
Mobara did, however, recommend that Koonin contact Abigail Oliver (internal legal counsel and company secretary at Sekunjalo). Oliver wrote an apologetic letter to Koonin this week and assured her that she would pass the complaint on to relevant IMG staff for further investigation.
Jewish Report also contacted Crawford-Browne on Tuesday to ask if it was normal policy of the Cape Times’ letters editor to forward readers’ letters on to him. His response: “When there is any discussion on Zionism, the Zionist lobby demands reciprocity. So, why shouldn’t we?”
Jewish Report explained to him that reciprocity usually meant a right-of-reply in the following edition of a publication and pressed him on the question of whether it was normal for such a letter to be sent to him prior to – or even if never was – published. Crawford-Browne refused to comment further.