Journalist. Writer. Researcher. Editor.

Avusa refuses access to 2008 Sunday Times report

So. On May 3, on World Press Freedom Day and 20 years on from the Windhoek Declaration, the editor-in-chief of Avusa refused to grant me access to information. Specifically, he has refused to grant my access to information application, where I requested access to a 2008 report about apparent gate-keeping failures at the Sunday Times, a newspaper title owned by Avusa.

I have written about this before for the Daily Maverick, and a follow-up should be published there in the next week. For now I have decided to make my application, and Makhanya’s response, open for public debate.

[Removed – will be reposted asap] – This document is almost exactly the same as the Paia application I submitted to Avusa on April 1. It is not the exact same document, since it does not have my signature and I made last minute final changes to the document submitted to them, which is now in their possession.

Refusal response from Avusa – This is the response I received from Avusa editor-in-chief, Mondli Makhanya, yesterday (May 3).

Please feel free to comment on the report, and also if you do write about this, please send me a link. I would like to hear everyone’s views regarding this debate on media transparency and openness in South Africa.

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Categorised in: News, Writing

7 Responses

  1. Hi Quintin – WordPress won’t let me reply to your comment on that thread again, so here it is:

    I will have to go to court if I want this document off Avusa – there has been no court involvement yet. Further, I don’t think there any specific precedents pertaining to this issue either… I think this may be the first time since the Act came into effect that it has been used against a media house. Proving to be a most interesting endeavour!


    • So you stand to set the precedent then. This means that the resistance from Avusa will be extra tenacious, and that they might be using the (perceived) media tribunal issue as a card to portray themselves as the good guys in this.

      I hope you have broad shoulders, and that you get yourself some good legal council if you wish to pursue this. You are going to have a fight on your hands.

      In one way or another the future of media transparency will not be the same after this plays out.


  2. ” If we are open, transparent and accountable, the government won’t be able to use such arguments in their bids to take away media freedom. It is up to us (the media) to be accountable and set the terms for what that means, not government.”

    Well said Michelle. I wish more editors and journalists felt as you do. they don’t.

    I have been censored, as far as the media is concerned my culture and cultural rights do not exist. I have come across more impartial professional waitresses at Wimpy, than I have journalists and editors in SA; who are extremely biased and happy to censor those who expose their own media corruption.

    I refer to:
    * Concourt 23-10: Radical Honesty SA Amicus: Citizen v. McBride (CENSORED)
    * Concourt 06-11: Radical Honesty SA v. SANEF & 87 Others (CENSORED)
    * Equality Crt: Afriforum v. Malema: Radical Honesty SA Amicus (CENSORED)


    • Lara, from following your case I have to say I disagree with you – the fact that those cases were not covered in the media *does not* constitute censorship. Censorship is a whole different problem to what you are referring to, and censorship usually requires some political (state) power to do the censoring – that is not what happened with regard to these cases.

      If your cases were not covered by the media, this is purely because of news selection and news values in the various newsrooms, which have long been problematised by media theorists and journalists. But it does not constitute censorship. I think your arguments might have more credibility if you looked at the lack of reportage around your views and cases as a result of various discourses operating in newsrooms, rather than that of censorship.

      In fact, with regard to “Concourt 06-11: Radical Honesty SA v. SANEF & 87 Others”, the case actually got quite a great deal of media attention. Albeit not the kind of attention I imagine you were looking for.


  3. I read this, the response and your Daily Maverick article.

    I noted that they played the ” 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.
    ” card

    That alone makes me think that there is something afoot.

    I have to ask though, what will you do if/when the report is released? While I understand and agree with the philosophical argument re transparency there is a practical issue at hand – the Media Tribunal.

    Many are arguing that this will play into the hands of those who are lining the media up for a carnival shooting gallery. What are your thoughts on this?

    What will the release of the report gain the community at large besides keeping Avusa in line with the freedom of information act? Is there something in there that needs to be made public besides the report itself?

    Good luck


    • Quintin – When the report is released, I intend to use it to base research on newsrooms in South African and their gate-keeping and policy failures. From there, I hope to come up with models or potential answers to these problems, and what we can do to improve our media. But most importantly, I want to be able to use the document to ascertain whether or not the Sunday Times has in fact taken the steps to improve their newsroom and rectified the problems identified in the report. It has been almost three years, surely these measures have been implemented with effect? And if not, why not?

      I have dealt with the “carnival shooting gallery” argument before, and it is inherently flawed. So we (the media) should cover-up our mistakes so that government doesn’t use it against us when they argue that we cover-up mistakes and therefore want to take away our freedom? It’s non-sensical. If we are open, transparent and accountable, the government won’t be able to use such arguments in their bids to take away media freedom. It is up to us (the media) to be accountable and set the terms for what that means, not government.

      Lastly, I can’t really answer about what is or is not contained in the report until it is released, other than what I have mentioned in the past already. Also, it’s not the “freedom of information” act, but “promotion of access to information” act.

      And thank you for the luck 🙂


      • Ah a failure in recognising my acts. There is some egg to be had on my face tuen 🙂

        I agree with your assertion that the media should not cover their failures in order to keep the big bad wolf out of the door.

        I saw via your tweets that you had gone to court regarding this matter, or was that a “will have to”?

        Are there any precedents in SA law? Has another news media outlet been forced by a court or application such as yours to make a document public?