In this interview, Yogas Nair, the recently appointed Internal Press Ombud at Independent Media shares her thoughts on the way forward, but not before taking a few backward steps, because, as she alludes, the past, lest we forget, cannot be erased, as we head into the future.
Q: Prior to Independent being taken over by Dr Iqbal Surve’s Sekunjalo group, its former owners, namely the Argus Printing and Publishing Company, and thereafter Mr Tony O Reilly’s Irish Independent PLC, had no qualms about being members of the Newspaper Press Council (NPC) of SA. What then prompted the current Independent, from severing ties with the NPC?
A: Thank you for the question as a lot of innuendos and conspiracy theories still abound. It all related to a waiver, or lack of the same, applicable to litigants.
The facts are as follows. The Constitutional Court had ruled that a waiver was unconstitutional and it was therefore outlawed at the Press Council.
Q: Please elaborate so that readers can understand what waiver in this instance, meant.
A: It meant that a number of complainants were double-dipping in that they would approach the Press Council, get damages awarded, and would then approach a court for the same relief on the same set of facts.
This was setting us back financially and we were footing huge litigation costs. We decided to withdraw from the Press Council because we were aware of some other Media houses that had their own internal processes in place, and so we decided to create our own office of the Group Ombud.
Q: Were there any other allied reasons?
A: Yes. Independent Media came in for some scathing, scalding attacks from some other outlets, for reasons best known to themselves. They probably had or have their own agenda. But we are fighting back with facts, and in the interim, our Ombud’s office has been an ideal outlet to handle readers’ complaints, as we value our readers.
We really do not have any regrets for this disconnection from the NPC, as we believe we are still doing justice to complaints, albeit through our own Ombud’s office.
Q: How many complaints has the Ombud’s office handled to date?
A: Several, and these date back from the time of our launch in 2016, initially under Ombud Mr Jovial Rantao, and a panel of adjudicators. However, much has changed since then in terms of personnel, and we remain grateful for the work they did.
Q: What are some of the common complaints that have reached the Ombud’s office?
A: They deal with inaccuracies, defamatory statements, headlines that do not justify the content, and perhaps, the most cardinal, the denial of the right to reply. It is so important for all role players to understand what audi alterem partem means – let the other side be heard as well.
Q: How do you intend to remedy this?
A: We are planning to hold meetings with our editors, to ensure accountability, and to thereafter filter this to production and newsroom levels.
No, not a “big baas” type of approach, but one in which we can all learn from each other for the betterment of our titles, and our business, to ensure our survival in a challenging market.
Q: Are you going to be addressing the quality of journalism as well, given that grammatical errors tend to creep into copy, thus eroding and tarnishing your titles, and reader confidence in the process?.
A: This is a problem that needs to be tackled head-on. Quality and integrity cannot and should not be sacrificed. I know that deadlines are sacred and there is always a rush to get to the presses on time, but common errors must be nipped in the bud through a process of an extra pair of eyes, if possible.
Q: There is a lot more to probe, but who is Yogas Nair, and has she heard the starter’s whistle?
A: Yes, I am ready for the race. I started practising some months ago, and I believe the finishing post is within sight.
Two other former colleagues, Val Boje, and Moegsien Williams, make up the trio. We will feed off each other’s knowledge and expertise, to ensure our ruling is fair and just. If permitted, we will also offer advice to ensure the same errors are not repeated.
But we will not be lickspittles. We will not be obsequious. We cannot afford to be. We will judge strictly on merit.
At a personal level, I chalked up many 45 years in journalism, three at the Leader, a weekly publication which has since ceased publication, and 42 at the POST newspaper, where I served as editor for the last 21 of those years, until I officially retired in October 2010.
I have since been involved in freelance copy editing, and compiling and editing books on an occasional basis.
In those years, I got to understand the nuances that pin credible journalism. Yes, I am a stickler for accuracy and ensuring that facts are presented as they ought to. The right to reply is paramount.
At an Ombud level, I am grateful to former Indy Ombud chair Mr Jovial Rantao and fellow panellists, for sharing their knowledge and expertise. There was much to learn, there still is.
I wish to assure readers that an impartial hearing and ruling will be the order of the day, when matters come up for review. The way it works is that if a complainant is unhappy with an Adjudication Panel’s finding, it will then be referred to the Appeals Board for a decision.
The Appeals Panel will then adjudicate on the matter, weigh the pros and cons, and then rule. Like I said earlier, merit, on the facts before us, will be the sole criteria. You can count on us.