The communications department will apply for leave to appeal against the Press Ombudsman’s decision to dismiss Minister Dina Pule’s three complaints against the Sunday Times, it said on Monday.
“The department of communications is outraged by the Press Ombudsman’s exoneration of the Sunday Times for violating the SA Press Code,” the department said in a statement.
“The Press Ombudsman’s decision is unfortunate and cannot go unchallenged.”
On Saturday, Press Ombudsman Johan Retief said he had investigated the two reports about which Pule had complained, and the circumstances surrounding the provision of information to Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications.
“I could find no trace of evidence that the newspaper has lost its independence in favour of the [Democratic Alliance], or that it could justifiably be accused of unethical behaviour in this matter,” he said.
The complaint was dismissed in its entirety.
One of Pule’s complaints concerned Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt.
Pule complained that Oppelt acted unethically by handing over information to DA MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard, and that the newspaper, as a result, lost its independence to the DA.
This led to Parliament’s ethics committee investigating Pule.
Pule argued that Oppelt’s actions raised serious questions about the newspaper’s independence and its adherence to the Press Code.
The Sunday Times said it co-operated with the ethics committee and not with a political party, after it was approached by members of various parties, including the DA, the African National Congress, and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
The newspaper said it shared the information as the committee had been constituted largely on account of its reports, and because the ethics committee’s findings would be directly relevant to the reports it had published.
In its statement on Monday, the department called on the political parties to comment on “this serious allegation”.
“The role of the members of this committee is supposed to be that of independent mediators, akin to a judge. They also need to explain why they approached sources when that role is reserved for the registrar of the committee, who acts as a prosecutor,” the department said.
Pule also complained about reports published by the Sunday Times on May 5 and April 21. Retief dismissed both these complaints in their entirety.
The department said: “The ruling by the Press Ombudsman amounts to nothing but a treacherous whitewash attempt to legitimise unethical journalism conduct of the Sunday Times editor.
“It sets a very dangerous precedent for the South African media.”