Appeal Decision: Lebitse Palesa vs City Press

Tue, Apr 6, 2021

In the matter of

LEBITSE PALESA                                                                                              APPLICANT


CITY PRESS                                                                                                   RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 8323/09/2020




  1. Ms Palesa Lebitse (“applicant”) asks for leave to appeal the Ruling of the Press Ombud dated 12 January 2021, in which her complaint against City Press (“respondent”) was dismissed. The complaint followed an article published by the respondent in its edition of 29 September 2020. The article was headlined “Woman set to be charged for ‘extorting’ Masondo”. The story spoke about a sexual encounter which the applicant had had with Mr Masondo, a Deputy Minister, which resulted in a pregnancy that the applicant allegedly terminated.  More crucially, it was alleged that the applicant was extorting some money from Mr Masondo, and that a sting operation was set to entrap her receiving some R300k from Mr Masondo to stop her from harassing him and his wife. Secondly, it was alleged that there was a report by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to charge the applicant for extortion. Several other negatives things were reported as having been contained in the NPA’s report; it is not necessary to go into them, save to state that it was said that according to the NPA’s report, there was no relationship between the two; that the applicant wanted the two to have one but Mr Masondo resisted.
  2. The applicant raised a few complaints:

            2.1  “I was not given a right of reply …”

            2.2 The report by the NPA was not accurate, and the article, based thereon, was not balanced, factual and verified;

            2.3 City Press disclosed her identify whereas she was “a victim of sexual offence”;

            2.4 City Press contravened provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act by naming her while she was still to face criminal charges; she                         had not even appeared before court.

     3. The Ombud dealt extensively with the above complaints and nothing needs to be added. The applicant’s application for leave to appeal           did not take the matter any further; in particular, it did not affect the validity of the responses given by the respondent to the above                   complaints. I do think that it is necessary to briefly restate the responses:

             3.1 That the applicant was not given the right of reply: Apparently this means that the appellant was not approached for comment                           prior to the publication. Respondent’s reply was that the story was based on the report of the NPA which the respondent could                         not share as it was leaked to it in confidence. As respondent stated, the applicant would defend herself in court. It was                                       specifically mentioned that the article was based on the report. Moreover, the matter had been in the public domain.

            3.2 Complaint about the accuracy of the NPA’s report: The gist of the complaint was that the report was inaccurate. To bolster her                          case, the applicant argued that the alleged report would have contradicted itself in some parts. She therefore questioned whether                    it existed at all. It was mentioned by the respondent, amongst others, that the NPA did not refute the existence of the report.                              Indeed, it is highly unlikely that  the NPA would have failed to refute the allegation that a report existed, bearing in mind that the                        matter involved a public figure in the person of a Deputy- Minister. The other grounds for doubting the report’s existence were                          mere conjecture.

            3.3 That she was named, whereas she was a victim of a sexual offence: Reading through it, the story did not cast the applicant as a                      sexual victim; if anything, it conveyed sexual interaction between two consenting adults.

            3.4 Identifying her before she appeared in court in contravention of the Criminal Procedure Act. The respondent argued that, that                            issue could not arise as the applicant was not even charged yet; the NPA was still mulling doing so. But the Ombud was of the                           view that that was a matter for the criminal court, and not for him under the Code. It was a correct response by him.

4. It is clear that the Ombud dealt in detail with the complaints, including the complaint about an alleged negotiated settlement. He went              beyond the responses given by the respondent which, any my view, were a complete answer to the applicant’s case. Application for leave        to appeal is granted upon an applicant showing reasonable prospects of success. Submissions in the application for leave to appeal still          leave the respondent’s defence against all the complaints intact. The application is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 5th day of April 2021

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel