“We confirm notifying the Press Ombudsman of our decision to withdraw The New Age from the jurisdiction of the Press Council,” chief executive Nazeem Howa said in an sms to Sapa.
“This decision was not taken lightly but followed much internal debate. Our reasons are a matter for discussion between the ombud and ourselves.”
Howa said The New Age was appointing an independent ombudsman to deal with complaints against the paper.
“We have asked the Press Ombudsman to forward to the paper all existing complaints and will ensure that they are dealt with through an independent third party,” Howa said.
“We will naturally stand by that ruling and invite the DA to forward its complaint to us.”
The Democratic Alliance complained to the ombudsman on February 3 about a front-page article that defended what the party argued was the government’s disproportionate advertising expenditure on The New Age.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Press Council said The New Age had pulled out of the council’s ombudsman system.
“The New Age was one of the publications that have been using our system without being members of Print & Digital Media SA (PDMSA), so they are not members [of the council] and therefore are not automatically members of PDMSA,” director Joe Thloloe said.
“What happened in their case is our rules say if we get a complaint against a publication that is not a member of any of our processes, then we should write to the editor of that publication and ask if they want the complaint handled by the Press Council.”
If so, that makes the publication automatically members of the Press Council, and not PDMSA.
“Now, when we got the complaint about The New Age from the DA, The New Age was quite reluctant to respond to the complaint and when we contacted them, they sent a note stating they are pulling out of the system,” he said.
“Almost all publications in the council are subscribed to our system.”
On Wednesday, Democratic Alliance spokesman Gavin Davis said the publication’s pulling out of the system meant it was no longer possible to hold the newspaper accountable for the fairness and accuracy of its reporting.
“The timing of The New Age’s withdrawal is interesting,” he said.
“After missing a series of deadlines to respond to the DA’s complaint, the CEO of The New Age, Nazeem Howa, wrote to the ombudsman on 25 February to ‘confirm the withdrawal of The New Age from the Press Ombudsman processes’.”
Davis claimed the article about the advertising spend breached the Press Code and said it was likely that the DA’s complaint would have been upheld.
“So it appears that, to avoid the embarrassment of apologising and retracting the story, The New Age decided to withdraw from the ombudsman process altogether,” he said.