Why Avusa's turning down your PAIA request - Mondli Makhanya

Group turns down Michelle Solomon's request for Sunday Times Review Panel Report

3 May 2011

Attention: Michelle Solomon

Dear Michelle

Your request under the Promotion of Access to Information Act ('the Act")

1. We refer to your access to information request for the Sunday Times Review Panel report.

2. We have carefully considered your request and applied our mind to the contents of the report. We have decided to refuse your request for the following reasons:

2.1 as you will appreciate, Avusa Media Limited is a private body under the Act. The transparency obligations in relation to private bodies are obviously different from public bodies;

2.2 in particular, a requester must establish that the record is "required for the exercise or protection of any rights" in terms of section 50(1)(a) of the Act. The advice that Avusa has received is that the general right to freedom of expression that you have invoked would not qualify without a legally recognised motivation as to why the record is required for these purposes. Were it otherwise, any person could request information of a private body without satisfying an additional threshold to that which applies to public bodies;

2.3 in any event, the contents of the report are not subject to disclosure under recognised grounds of refusal. In terms of section 68(1) of the Act, the contents of the report contain commercial information relating to Avusa Media Limited which if disclosed would be likely to cause harm to its commercial interests.

3. We have also applied our minds to section 70 of the Act, the public interest override. None of the conditions for the application of that override exists.

4. You are entitled to apply to court in terms of section 78(1) of the Act within 180 days of this decision for access to the report.

5. In addition, I'd like to refer to an earlier e-mail, written by myself, and wish to emphasise that the Sunday Times has always promoted transparent and accountable, corporate behaviour and our behaviour to date reinforces these statements. At the time that the report came out, it was provided to all our board members and to a shareholder, who had questions regarding the report. The recommendations that came out of the panel were instituted by the Sunday Times. I reiterate, that the executive summary and the recommendations were published in the newspaper and at any time, any individual can revisit this publication. The Sunday Times has focussed on implementing the recommendations, including, but not limited to:

5.1 the appointment of a public editor to investigate complaints and engage with readers and the general public;

5.2 Immediately after the completion of the report, the Sunday Times embarked on a review of all its editorial policies, codes and procedures. Led by senior editor Susan Smuts, the review looked at South African Press Code, best practice from the world's top newspapers and media houses and the findings of the report. The staff was widely consulted on the policies and codes and many gave valuable input. At the end of the process, all signed up to the new code. Upon his return from his Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, former Sowetan editor-in chief, Thabo Leshilo, was appointed Public Editor for the entire Avusa Media stable. In that position, he led the formulation of editorial policies and codes in line with the findings and recommendations of the report. Using the Sunday Times codes and policies as a blueprint, he embarked on a consultation process throughout the group. While the Avusa Media group's codes and policies largely mirror the original Sunday Times document, they were enriched by the inputs of the rest of the group. Leshilo then oversaw the implementation of these policies through the group. Leshilo left the group in March. He has been replaced by Joe Latagoma, a veteran South African journalist and former editor of The Sowetan.

5.3 The management structure was restructured and flattened very significantly. The Chief Sub post was immediately re-instated. The incumbent, Phakama Mbonambi, is supported by a very strong team of senior production people which oversees the production of the various editions of the Sunday Times.

5.4 A committee involving management and the Staff Association worked on a communication mechanism which has worked well most of the time but has had its challenges. The editorial management team, under Ray Hartley, holds regular briefings with staff and their representatives. We would be the first to say that, like most companies, the world over, there will always be a tension between the confidentiality required in running a complex operation and ensuring a good flow of information.

5.5 Newsroom-based training is ongoing. For more focused training, capacity dictates that we have had to collaborate with other institutions and send staff on courses off site.

5.6 The chain that the story follows is clearer now reporters are consulted on changes, and they then look at the stories on the page too, if they are out of the office but can access the internet, they will be sent a PDF to look at

6. If you wish to discuss any contents of the report any further, you are welcome to join me for a cup of coffee.

Yours faithfully



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