INDEPENDENT ONLINE COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE
1. Who can complain
1.1. A natural person who has a direct interest in published material may complain;
1.2. Third-party complaints will be accepted if,
1.2.1. the person affected by the published material cannot act in his/her own name; or
1.2.2 good cause is shown.
3. A company, trust, association or other corporate institution which has a direct interest in published material may complain, subject to rule 3 below.
2.1. No complaint shall be accepted unless the complainant, or in the case of third-party complaints, the person affected by the publication, has waived his/her/its rights to institute an action or application in any court or other tribunal.
2.2. The waiver shall be unequivocal and in accordance with the prescribed form which is “Form A” hereto.
2.3. The waiver will only be required if no settlement in terms of rule 5 below can be reached.
3.1 Any complainant other than a natural person, a registered Non-Profit Organisation or a Public Benefit Organisation, shall pay a refundable deposit of R5 000.00 before the complaint will be considered by the Ombuds.
3.2. The deposit will only become payable if no settlement in terms of rule 5 below can be reached.
3.3. If the complainant referred to in 3.1 above is substantially successful, the deposit shall be refunded to the complainant.
3.4. The Ombuds may, on good cause shown, waive the requirement for the deposit.
4. Minimum content of complaint
4.1. Every complaint shall be in the format of Form B hereto.
4.2. Each complaint shall contain at least the following information:
4.2.1. Full particulars of the complainant;
4.2.2 The article or articles which contain the published material complained of;
4.2.3 The reasons for the complaint;
4.2.4 What rights of the complainant have been breached by the publication;
4.2.5 Any harm or damages that the complainant claims to have suffered as a consequence of the publication.
5. Settlement procedure
Once a complaint has been received in accordance with Form B, the following procedure shall apply:
5.1. The complaint shall be referred to the Independent Online’s national executive editor, who acts as a public advocate for mediation.
5.2. The national executive editor shall within 14 (fourteen) days of receipt of the complaint:
5.2.1. Assist the complainant to amend the complaint if it is not compliant with Form B;
5.2.2 Endeavour to reach a settlement between the complainant and Independent Online.
5.3. Failing settlement, the complainant shall:
5.3.1. Without delay complete the waiver and, where applicable, pay the deposit in respect of their complaint; and thereafter
5.3.2 Call upon the relevant editor to submit a response to the complaint within 7 (seven) days;
5.3.3 Refer the complaint to the Ombuds for adjudication.
6. Rules of adjudication – Ombuds
6.1. If the Ombuds can rule on the complaint based on the complaint and the response alone, he or she shall do so as soon as possible after the referral, not exceeding 21 (twenty-one) days;
6.2. If the Ombuds is of the view that the matter cannot be decided on the documents before him, or if there is a dispute of fact that cannot be resolved on the papers before him, he shall call for a hearing.
6.3. At the hearing:
6.3.1. The procedure shall be informal and as determined by the Ombuds;
6.3.2 The rules of natural justice shall be followed;
6.3.3 Neither party shall be entitled to legal representation, unless permission therefor is granted, on good cause shown.
7. Rulings and Sanctions
7.1. Once the Ombuds has ruled on the complaint, he shall inform the complainant and the editor immediately;
7.2. The Ombuds shall publish the ruling on the website;
7.3. If the complaint is allowed, partially or in full, the Ombuds may impose any or a combination of the following sanctions:
7.3.2 A directive that the offending publication publishes a correction, retraction and or apology to the complainant in the form as prescribed by the Ombuds;
7.3.3 Where a complainant has proven damages, such damages as proven up to a maximum of R25,000.00 (see requirement for damages claims in Form B).
7.3.4 Where applicable, the deposit shall be refunded.
7.4. The Ombuds’ decision is final and binding on the parties, subject to 8 below.
7.5. Every ruling shall inform the complainant of their right of appeal.
8. Rules of Appeal
8.1. Any party subject to an adverse ruling of the Ombuds shall have a right to apply for leave to appeal the ruling.
8.2. The application for leave to appeal shall be in accordance with Form C hereto.
8.3. The application for leave to appeal and the record of proceedings before the Ombuds shall be referred to the Ombuds Appeals Chair for determination of the application.
8.4. If leave to appeal is granted, the Ombuds Appeals Chair shall call an appeals hearing at a date to be determined by him/her.
8.5. At the appeals hearing:
8.5.1. The procedure shall be informal and as determined by the Ombuds Appeals Chair;
8.5.2 The rules of natural justice shall be followed;
8.5.3 Neither party shall be entitled to legal representation, unless permission therefor is granted, on good cause shown;
8.5.4 The appeal shall be restricted to the facts before the Ombuds.
8.6. The Ombuds Appeals Chair shall publish his ruling in the same manner as the Ombuds. His decision is final and binding on the parties.
8.7. The Ombuds Appeals Chair may uphold the appeal, vary any ruling of the Ombuds or dismiss an appeal.
9. Overriding Principles
The rules of procedure shall be applied with the following principles in mind:
9.1. The procedures contained herein are designed for a quick and inexpensive resolution of disputes relating to publication by Independent Online.
9.2. Whilst any person wishing to be bound by these rules should be free to do so, the prime purpose is to provide the ordinary readers, including the indigent, of the Independent Online publications with an informal forum to complain about breaches of the code.
9.3. The code and rules of procedure provide a quick alternative dispute resolution system and operate as an alternative to litigation.