Allister Sparks' claims complete and utter rubbish - Iqbal Survé

Independent Media's Executive Chairman welcomes Press Ombudsman's ruling, emphasises he does not meddle in editorial decisions

Statement by Independent Media following the Press Ombudsman ruling in the matter between Allister Sparks and the Cape Times

24 February 2015

Independent Media has noted and welcomed the dismissal by Press Ombudsman Johan Retief of the complaint lodged by former columnist Allister Sparks against the Cape Times and its former editor Gasant Abarder.

In protesting his termination as a columnist from the Cape Times, Sparks had written a highly defamatory column in Business Day, attacking Abarder's integrity and alleging that Independent Media's Executive Chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, had a hand in his dismissal.

In response, Abarder in a column in the Cape Times called a spade a spade, saying the assertion that Dr Survé played any part in his dismissal was a "lie" - as indeed it is completely devoid of any truth.

Sparks further complained to the Ombudsman that the Cape Times then chose not to run a letter with further defamatory statements towards Abarder and Survé. The Ombudsman rightly dismissed Sparks' protestations about his letter not being published, with Retief saying it was not his "mandate to interfere with decisions belonging to editors only".

"This is an important ruling for us at Independent Media. We have many detractors, such as disgruntled former contractors like Sparks, but we have far more supporters who believe in what we are doing to positively transform the South African media landscape. Sparks had the temerity of questioning Abarder's judgement as an editor and insinuating that I was responsible for his dismissal. Understandably, Mr Retief has to be diplomatic in dismissing Sparks' assertion that this was a ‘lie'. Fortunately I need to exercise no such diplomacy and again dismiss his comments as complete and utter rubbish," said Dr Survé. 

"I appoint my editors on merit and back them completely. I am the executive chairman of Independent Media, I run the business, but I want to reiterate once again that I leave the editorial running of our media titles entirely in the hands of our editors. I have no involvement in editorial decisions whatsoever and I am very happy that the Ombudsman's ruling backs this. 

"I have the utmost respect for the journalistic contribution made by the likes of Sparks, Max du Preez, John Scott and Tony Weaver to the history of this company, but they are no longer columnists for our publications.  We are looking forward not backward, concentrating on finding fresh, relevant voices for our platforms and to honestly and objectively reflect the diversity of viewpoints in our country. People have strong opinions about Independent Media, but we ask them to allow our team to get on with their business of catering for our over six million daily readers and providing good value for our advertisers. We are very positive and upbeat about our company's future prospects and will defend our right to conduct our business as we see fit," Dr Survé added.

The Ombudsman's dismissal of Sparks' complaint follows a similar dismissal to a complaint lodged with the Ombudsman by the Democratic Alliance and its leader Helen Zille last month.

Zille and the DA had asserted that Independent Newspapers' senior editorial executives Karima Brown and Vukani Mde's wearing of party political colours to an event in their personal capacity indicated political bias by Independent Media in their coverage.

The Ombudsman dismissed this complaint, saying there was no proof that this action resulted in any biased reporting whatsoever by Independent Media in their titles.

"We fully support the right of any reader or interested party to take Independent Media to regulatory bodies such as the Ombudsman or the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. We value our integrity and impartiality, putting our readers and advertisers first at all times. We have been fair in our coverage and fair also in the treatment of our current and former employees. We remain committed to engage with any party in the interests of reflecting our country's changing face with honesty and the utmost integrity," said Dr Survé.

Statement issued by Lutfia Vayej, Group Executive: Marketing and Communication, Independent Media, February 25 2015

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