Do dismissals of complaints by the Public Advocate in the office of the Press Ombudsman without due consideration of the merits argued seeking relief by complainants, not raise questions about the arbitrary power wielded by him?
If one considers a recent complaint lodged by a medical academic who happens to be a highly placed Muslim professional against an article which maligned him as a “Professor of Propaganda” in a paper which prides itself as a Jewish voice, in which the Public Advocate clearly disregarded the seriousness of the damage caused to his reputation and integrity, the question is valid.
In a terse short email, the Public Advocate Fanie Groenewald informed the complainant Professor Shabir Moosa, that his application to seek redress has been dismissed.
In what appears to be a superficial attempt to investigate the substance of the complaint in relation to the bullying, harassment and intimidation which Moosa alleges he was subjected to, the Public Advocate, by leaning on his narrow view that the article was an opinion piece as opposed to a news report, failed to make a finding against it.
This is a serious breach of relevant sections of the press code which while providing great deal of latitude in op-eds, emphatically disallows malice.
If the facts of the complaint are taken into account, what emerges is that the complainant has sufficient grounds to be offended by the malicious content of the article, especially in the context of threats and intimidation which he was unfairly subjected to via Whatsapp messages prior to the publication.
Let’s revisit the factual background.
During the height of Israel’s recent inhumane aggression and attack on Palestinians in Jerusalem and especially Islam’s sacred mosque, Masjid Al Aqsa, Muslims as indeed many people of conscience across the world were justifiably outraged.
The condemnation of Israel’s barbaric brutalities by settlers and soldiers were manifest in widespread street protests in many capitals of the world including South Africa.
It is against this background when video clips emerged showing Israelis cheering and celebrating a fire raging in the prescints of Masjid Al Aqsa. Given global news reports by most mainstream media including CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and others depicting the horror of violent attacks by Israeli troops inside Masjid Al Aqsa, the fire implied an arson attack being applauded by flag-waving Israelis.
From the summary of Professor Moosa’s complaint, he sets out the background to the harassment and intimidation he endured from Howard Sackstein, Chairman of the Jewish Report after sharing a post on his personal blog.
Titled “Zionists cheer burning on Al-Aqsa” the post comprised of a video clip from TRTLive of youth facing a fire on Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, waving the Israeli flag and singing.
“The singing was interspersed with the phrase ‘Yemach Shemam – may the ‘Palestinian’ name be erased’, the same as Jews refer to Hitler when uttering his name.”
Professor Moosa explained in his complaint that the rest of his initial post contained the words “Just how does anybody justify this? Where is the universal condemnation? This is not just any mosque. It is the third holy space of Muslims across the world!”
It was also shared in many groups Moosa had created, including one to support young intern doctors he supports in their apprenticeship in primary care.
Again as he explained, he found it important that young South African doctors be sensitive to hate speech. Undoubtedly anyone cheering the blaze in parts of Islam’s sacred mosque would be an expression of extreme form of hate and vile Islamophobia.
Interestingly despite his posts having been shared widely he received no complaint from anyone except Sackstein who introduced himself as chairman of the Jewish Report. By the way, this lone complainant is not on any of Moosa’s groups.
In a series of messages via Whatsapp to Professor Moosa, Sackstein made a number of demands in typical “or else” fashion. A careful reading of Sackstein’s intimidatory messages which included a threat to report Professor Moosa to the Wits Medical School, sets the tone for the offensive article which followed in the Jewish Report.
As Moosa explained, the headline “Professor of Propaganda” was malicious and “clearly intended to denigrate me and misleads the public, even potentially putting me in danger from a poorly discerning reader of the SAJR”.
Any impartial assessment of the article in question as well as Whatsapp messages preceding it would quite easily conclude that the Jewish Report is not only in breach of relevant codes of the Press Codes of Ethics and Conduct, but that it deserves to be sanctioned as severely as possible.
Fortunately the dismissal is not the final word. An appeal against the Public Advocate’s decision has been lodged by Professor Moosa. In this he is being assisted by Hassen Lorgat who as a civil rights activist and media law specialist, has succeeded in previous complaints against the Jewish Report on behalf of Palestinian Solidarity Movements.
Israeli transgressions and belligerence against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories of Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank ought to be a matter of shame for all who believe that the Jewish regime is incapable of atrocious human rights violations.
Indeed to defend such barbaric brutalities as is evident in the attacks upon Al Aqsa Mosque as well as in Palestinian neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrar, Silwan, Hebron and the rest of ’48 Palestine, is to justify crimes against humanity.
Academics, journalists, unionists, civil rights activists among others, have to ensure that both public debate and political awareness of Israel’s colonial pursuits is not subject to threats and intimidation by supporters of the apartheid regime.
It is thus important to ensure that the arbitrary power wielded by the Public Advocate is kept in check, lest erroneous decisions add to the injustices flowing from criminal deeds of Israel and its supporters.
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