Tiger Tiger appeal
I would like to address three elements of Press Ombudsman, Johan Retief’s finding of 18 August, Mark Povey vs the Cape Times.
I stress that I do so on a technicality because it is clear that the Press Code is a living document as manifest in the section, ‘Unveiling the New System’. It is, accordingly, my hope that, if the concerns I raise are addressed, it will enhance the self-regulation of the newspaper industry and improve the protection afforded to people like myself, Chad de Matos and my family whose lives have been so deleteriously affected by the reporting of Carlo Petersen of the Cape Times in the Tiger Tiger case.
I am encouraged by the fact that the review process will be under the aegis of a retired judge because I believe judicial input can address three significant lacunae in the Press Code as it is presently structured.
I welcome the Press Council ruling that the Cape Times apologise for the way in which it contravened the Press Code in reporting on the Tiger Tiger Five but I believe that, unless the Complaints Procedure is amended, the broad public will remain vulnerable to the advocacy reporting which characterised the Cape Times coverage of this matter.
When one looks at the big picture then it is clear that the restriction imposed by the 20 working day limit and that of been denied the right to lodge a complaint if the matter is before court, the Complaints Procedure did not provide the Tiger Tiger Five and their families with adequate protection or redress against the contravention by Carlo Petersen and the Cape Times of a significant element of the Press Code, namely:
4.7.1 The facts reported are true or substantially true; or
In this regard I would, for the purpose of analysis, use, Chad de Matos, as a case study. He is on the Dean’s list at UCT and rated as one of the best students.
He, and four friends, after a game of social soccer went to the Tiger Tiger nightclub in Claremont on the evening of 17 October 2014 and their sole objective was to have a pleasant evening.
What happened thereafter was set out in his statement to the investigating officer and which was part of the docket in the possession of prosecutor Nathan Johnson.
Chad de Matos was the designated driver and as such left the nightclub early and fell asleep in his car.
He was awakened by a fracas outside the car and assisted his companions by opening the car doors so that they could enter and they then sped away. He recalls the complainant, Delia Adonis, chasing after the car swinging a mop.
He had no physical contact or verbal exchange with her.
Despite this he was vilified for months on end as a brutal, foul mouthed racist, a person who would not hesitate not merely to assault a middle-aged woman but to attempt to kill her. He was likened by prosecutor Nathan Johnson to the notorious convicted murders, the Waterkloof Four, despite the fact that he had no previous convictions and had never previously been arrested. (What is significant is that it was only the Cape Times that used this statement by Johnson even though as a court statement it was privileged.)
Abandoning all the conventions which characterise journalism of integrity, the articles by Carlo Petersen did not use the word alleged in any of the reports or headlines until, belatedly, after all charges had been withdrawn.
This is how the Daily Dispatch truthfully summarised the events on that night:
East London private investigator Christian Botha said he had been tasked by the families to investigate the matter and obtained corroborating witness statements from security guards and bouncers at the Tiger Tiger complex that contradicted the complainants’ statements.
“They said the woman and her son were the aggressors in the incident,” said Botha.
He said there had been two separate fights inside Tiger Tiger on the night in question, alleging Adonis had assisted a victim from one of the fights.
Botha further alleged Adonis and her son had attacked the former Selborne pupils thinking they had been the aggressors in that fight.
There was no truth whatsoever in the Cape Times articles or the headlines which repeatedly, over a period of months, portrayed Chad de Matos as a vicious person and potential murderer.
The truth was available in the statements made by de Matos, his companions and three independent witnesses which were part of the case docket and which Petersen could have accessed had he so chosen.
There was however, no mechanism available to me in the Press Code to counter this biased reporting, which we had to endure for months as Mr Retief explains in his ruling of 18 August:
“Povey also complains about a series of articles which preceded the story, but our complaints procedures do not allow me to adjudicate them [as they are published longer than 21 days before the complaint was lodged]”. This is why I was forced to ignore many of the complaints raised by Povey”.
The clause in the Complaints Procedure that Mr Retief is referring to is clause 1.3 but I believe that his interpretation is incorrect in that a provision for the consideration of late complaints exists: “The Public Advocate may on reasonable grounds accept the late complaints if, in his or her opinion, there is a good and satisfactory explanation for the delay”.
I base my appeal on the aims and objectives of the Constitution of the Press Council and the Press Code which, inter alia, include:
“To promote and to develop ethical practice in journalism and to promote the adoption of and the adherence to those standards by the South African press.”
“To adopt the Press Code as a guide to excellent practice and to act as its custodian”.
“To establish and maintain a voluntary independent mechanism to deal with complaints about journalistic ethics from the Public against member publications of the PMSA and others who subscribe to the SA Press Code.”
In terms of this Constitution I submit that I have a right to lodge a complaint against any newsprint article that I believe has breached the Press Code and I trust the Press Council to deal with all complaints through its voluntary independent mechanism.
Unfortunately, the Complaints Procedure has not, until now, afforded me the opportunity to lodge a complaint due to Clause 1.7 which states that the Public Advocate may not accept a complaint that relates to a pending court case. I believe that the objective of this clause was to “not unduly influence any pending court rulings” but I do not believe that its purpose was to protect newspapers from justifiable complaints from the public during this period - which is the current situation.
Only now that the court case has been withdrawn am I able to lodge a complaint against falsehoods which have been propagated both locally through the newspaper and throughout the world via the IOL website!
The idea that a magistrate or judge would be influenced in either verdict or sentence by a Press Council ruling against a newspaper covering the trial which they are hearing bewilders me because it makes the negative assumption that they are capable of being influenced in this regard. That perception might be relevant in a country which uses trial by jury – but is it a valid and justifiable concern under the South African judicial system?
In terms of Press Council Constitution I have a right to lay a complaint against any article that has clearly breached the Press Code but I have been prohibited by clause 1.7 of the Complaints Procedure from doing so in the current matter while this court case has been ongoing.
The conflict between Clause 1.3 which overrules the 20 working day restriction in the complaints procedure providing there is a “good and reasonable explanation for the delay in lodging a complaint” and the prohibition against complaining against breaches of the press code during court proceedings as defined in clause 1.7 needs to be resolved lest others be prevented from complaining in future, as I have been.
To provide context to my contention of a sinister synergy between Carlo Petersen and prosecutor Nathan Johnson which resulted in a material breach of sections 2.1 and 2.2. of the Press Code I would like to bring the following facts to the attention of the Press Council.
Carlo Peterson has reported every detail mentioned by Delia Adonis as undisputed fact. The fact is that he has not done his due diligence in confirming her statements and those that are in conflict to her version of the evenings events.
The first headline news article regarding the Tiger Tiger case dated the 24th November 2014, reported by Carlo Peterson, gives a graphic detail of her version of the evening event as contained in her first police statement. The report prompted the investigating officer to take another statement which was done under oath. In this statement dated one day after the newspaper headline news, the 25th November, Delia Adonis stated under oath that she has not spoken to the newspaper and has only told Mr Johnson the story. If Adelia Adonis only told the State Prosecutor the story then how did Carlo Peterson get all the facts that were on the complainant’s police statement?
It is common cause that two charges of assault were laid at the Claremont Police Station regarding the incidents that happened on the night of 17 October 2014.
The first was laid by the complainant Delia Adonis.
The second was laid by a patron of the Tiger Tiger nightclub on that date, Duncan Ross Hendry.
Carlo Petersen has since the beginning of this saga assiduously promoted as fact that Hendry was assaulted by the Tiger Tiger Five and that the complainant Delia Adonis intervened to protect Hendry from them as the following timeline proves:
Hendry declined to speak to the Cape Times on Wednesday, but his brother Warwick, 28, said: “My brother was saved by Delia Adonis after he was attacked, knocked to the ground and kicked and punched repeatedly in the face – after he stepped in to defend a friend of his incidentally.
“She might well have saved his life. I think this act of courage and compassion needs to be highlighted. This was a positive and compassionate act. She did what few people seem willing to do these days – she stuck her neck out for a complete stranger. I would like to thank her.”
Hendry’s brother Warwick, 28, said: “My brother was saved by Delia after he was badly beaten up when he stepped in to defend a friend.
“She might well have saved his life.
“I think this act of courage and compassion needs to be highlighted.”
Adonis said she had intervened after witnessing Booth’s clients allegedly assault Duncan Hendry, 21, on October 17. Hendry had apparently intervened after Booth’s clients allegedly assaulted another man. (See here and here)
There is a small flaw in Petersen’s attempts to further smear the Tiger Tiger Five and that is that Duncan Ross Hendry positively identified his assailant by name when he laid his charge at the Claremont Police Station on 17 October 2014 and the name does not belong to anyone of the five accused who were demonised by the Cape Times as being the moral equivalent of the Waterkloof Four. (What is also ironic is that he suddenly finds an affinity of the word ‘allegedly’ – using in twice in successive sentences – whereas it never appeared in his articles for months on end prior to the charges being withdrawn.) Duncan Ross Hendry has an independent witness who also confirms the identity of the assailant as Shasha Chernikov and even gave his place of employment.
Alexander (Sasha) Chernikov appeared in the Wynberg Magistrates Court Number 2 on 3rd August 2015 charged with assaulting Duncan Ross Hendry and the case was postponed until 20 November 2015. The case number is 340/10/2014.
The testimony under oath of Duncan Ross Hendry absolutely destroys the carefully constructed case of Nathan Johnson, Carlo Peterson and the Cape Times which links the Tiger Tiger Five to the assault on Hendry. But what is even more sinister is that William Booth’s clients were brought to trial within a month but the trial relating to another assault on the same date and at the same location – Hendry - is only brought to court for the first time almost nine months later. How come?
This censorship by omission – contravening the reference to ‘material omissions’ in section 2.2 of the Press Code – is clearly deliberate but it has taken me one week to get to the truth about who actually assaulted Duncan Ross Hendry, a truth that further exonerates Chad de Matos . However, the Press Complaints Procedures, as presently defined and structured, makes no provision for raising concerns about censorship by omission because it asks for a specific article deadline and the date of publication.
How do I complain about the fact that Carlo Petersen, deliberately did not cover the appearance of Sasha Chernikov in the same court where the Tiger Tiger Five had to appear because to have done so would have undermined his credibility and the credibility of the newspaper that employs him.
Chad de Matos who never laid a finger on Delia Adonis or Duncan Ross Hendry has been falsely pilloried in the Cape Times and on a website which is accessible to anyone in the world with internet access.
Google Chad de Matos and you will see what any potential future employer will see in future.
There is no way of measuring the damage that he has suffered as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and finding himself at the mercy of an unscrupulous and ambitious prosecutor working together with a newspaper which is according to a comment from the Politicsweb is “sowing racial discord” and “stirring racial animus” for the people of Cape Town.
I do not lightly express concern about the conduct of Prosecutor Nathan Johnson. I have lodged a complaint to the head of the NPA in the Western Cape, Rodney de Kock, to complain about Johnson’s role which is in conflict with the code of conduct for prosecutors.
What has happened to Chad de Matos is a travesty of justice and the antithesis of the norms and values encompassed in the Press Code.
I thus ask that favourable consideration be given to my appeal as I believe that “I have a good and satisfactory explanation for the delay” in registering the complaint and that the Press Council revisit my complaint with specific reference to the seriousness of the breaches.
I believe that, all things considered, the calculated way in which the Cape Times sought to maximise the harm suffered by the Tiger Tiger Five and to withhold from its readers both in print and online platforms the truth about what happened at the Stadium on Main complex on 17 October 2014 should be considered as a Tier 3 offence – Serious Misconduct
Special request: I ask the Press Council to reassess the Complaints Procedures as they relate to:
The 20 working day time limit on complaints
The restriction on complaints relating to trials in progress
The difficulties in raising concerns about deliberate censorship by omission.