1. Preamble
    1. The Office of The Group Ombud is an independent, impartial institution with the authority and responsibility to receive, investigate or informally address complaints about content published in all publications that belonging to Independent Media, and, when appropriate, make findings and recommendations, and publish reports.
    2. It is an institution that works for the resolution of particular issues and, where appropriate, makes recommendations for the improvement of the general administration of the publications over which it has jurisdiction.
    3. The core values of the Office of the Group Ombud are:
      1. The highest form of ethical journalism.
      2. Independence.
      3. Accessibility, fairness,accountability, impartiality and effectiveness.
  2. Independence, Accessibility, Fairness, Public Accountability, Effectiveness And Impartiality
    1. Independence
      1. The Office of The Group Ombud is free from interference in the legitimate performance of its duties and independent from control, limitation, or a penalty imposed for retaliatory purposes by Independent Media.
      2. The Office of The Group Ombud is immune from liability for acts performed in good faith under the law.
      3.  The Group Ombud and any of the Panel Members may not be subpoenaed by either of the parties to a dispute to testify in any subsequent court action.
    2. Accessibility
      1.  The Office of The Group Ombud seeks to ensure that readers of Independent Media titles and general members of the public are aware of its existence through promoting its existence in the media, by other means and by producing readily available material in simple terms explaining:
        1. How to access the institution;
        2. How the institution works;
        3. The major areas with which the institution deals; and
        4.  Any restrictions on the institution’s powers.
        5. How the institution provides appropriate facilities and assistance for disadvantaged complainants and those with special needs.
        6. That some complainants will be obliged to pay a fee. These category of complainants and the conditions that apply, are published in the Complaints Procedure.
        7. That the institution’s processes are simple for complainants to understand and easy to use.
        8. The institution discourages the use of legal representatives before the Group Ombud except in special circumstances.
    3. Fairness
      1. The Office of The Group Ombud produces decisions that are fair and seen to be fair by observing the principles of procedural fairness; by making decisions on the information before it and has the Independent Press Code as a specific criteria upon which its decisions are based.
      2. Panel Members will conduct inquiries and investigations in a procedurally fair manner which includes informing the responding publication of the allegations against it, permitting the parties to respond to information that is adverse to them and taking into account relevant considerations and ignoring irrelevant considerations.
      3. Panel Members will make findings about the complaint based on the facts, the law and conclusions drawn on an analysis of them.
    4. Public Accountability
      1. The Office of the Group Ombud publicly accounts for its operations by publishing its decisions and information about complaints.
      2. The Office of The Group Ombud will publish an annual summary of complaints received.
      3. An annual report will be made available to the public detailing the complaints received yearly. This report can be made available by request. Such a request can be made in writing to the Complaints email address.
    5. Effectiveness
      1. The Office of The Group Ombud will follow informal and cost-effective procedures and will have sufficient human, financial and operational resources, to enable the Office to conducts inquiries and investigations in an effective and timely manner.
      2. The Office of The Group Ombud may recommend clarification, amendment, or initiation of Independent Media policies and regulations or remedial action to address any systemic issue identified by the Ombud.
      3. Before the Office of The Group Ombud commences an investigation, the complainant should have first exhausted the internal complaints procedures of the publication  complained against.
    6. Impartiality in Conducting Inquiries and Investigations
      1. The Office of The Group Ombud will conduct inquiries and investigations in an impartial manner, free from the bias and conflicts of interest.
      2. The Office of The Group Ombud is not an advocate for any individual or group.
      3. Impartiality does not preclude the Office of The Group Ombud, after an investigation has been conducted, from developing an interest in securing changes that are deemed necessary or advocating for recommendations that would benefit the public and reduce future complains.
      4. The Office of The Group Ombud or any member of the Ombud’s staff will not personally deal with a complaint brought by a party known to him or her.
      5. The questions, concerns and complaints of readers will be treated equitably and consistently in a courteous manner.
  3. Limitations of the Office of the Group Ombud
    1. Limitations of the Office of the Group Ombud shall not:
      1. Accept jurisdiction over an issue that is currently pending in or has been disposed of in a legal forum.
      2. Accept jurisdiction over an issue that the publication complained against has not had the reasonable opportunity to resolve.
      3. Act in a manner inconsistent with the grant of and limitations on the jurisdiction of the office when discharging the duties of the office of Ombud.
  4. Conflict of interest and disclosure
    1. Panel Members should disclose any interest or relationship that is likely to affect their impartiality or which might create a perception of partiality. The duty to disclose rests on the Panel Member.
    2. Panel Members adjudicating in any matter should, before accepting, disclose directly to the Office of The Group Ombud:
      1. any direct or indirect financial or personal interest in the matter;and
      2. any existing or past financial,business, professional, or social relationship which is likely to affect impartiality or may lead to a reasonable perception of partiality or bias.
      3. A complainant or representative of a respondent entity is known if the complainant is a friend, acquaintance, family member, relative or someone that an official has had dealings with outside the office
    3. A Panel Member  may not be impartial in handling a complaint if the member or their immediate family:
      1. Is indebted to a complainant;
      2. Holds directly or indirectly, through a trust or otherwise, any financial interest in a complaint or complainant;
        1. Is a member of the governing body or is a officer of the complainant.
  5. Tenure and remuneration
    1. Each Panel member will be remunerated per hour of every sitting, and Appeals Panel chairperson will be remunerated per sitting.
    2. The Office of The Group Ombud is appointed at a suitably senior level for a non-renewable fixed term of two years.
    3. The appointment of the Panel Members must not be subject to premature termination, other than for incapacity or misconduct or other good cause.
    4. Any violation of this code constitutes grounds for termination
  6. Removal from office
    1. Good cause may include bias, neglect of duty, misconduct, or inability to perform duties through incompetence or ill health.
    2.  The decision to dismiss the Group Ombud should taken after due process is followed.
    3. The Group Ombud may not be dismissed for making decisions that are unpopular Independent Media, an entity over which it exercises jurisdiction, or with consumer or political groupings or other media groups or formations.
  7. Confidentiality
    1. Members of staff and Panel Members must honour the confidential nature of the work performed at Office of The Group Ombud at all times. Officials may not divulge confidential information obtained in the course of their employment.
    2.  Members of staff and Panel Members must safeguard any information about complainants and entities complained against.
    3. Members of staff and Panel Members may only use information obtained from entities complained against and complainants for the purpose of investigating or processing complaints or to assist a complainant with an enquiry.
    4. Any other use of the information or documents is not permitted.
    5. Information obtained during the processing or handling of a complaint may only be disclosed to the parties to the complaint, with the exception of information used for statistical purposes or with the explicit permission of the parties or as required by law.
    6. Members of staff and Panel Members may not take any action or obtain any interest, property or benefit as a result of the improper use of confidential information obtained from any matter that is lodged with the office, or obtained as a result of knowledge gained in the course of their employment.
    7. No documents or information in the office may be used by any member of staff for any improper use.
    8. Members of staff and Panel Members should at all times take steps to protect and enhance the reputation of the office and its officials. The content of any public presentations being made by officials must be approved by the Group Ombud prior to such official agreeing to make such a presentation.
    9. No official may disclose any information about or express any view regarding any matter dealt with by the Group Ombud’s office or anything pertaining to the operations of the Ombud’s office to the media unless specifically authorised to do so by the Office of The Group Ombud.
    10. All communications with other media should be mindful of upholding the integrity and dignity of the Group Ombud’s office.
  8. Breach of code
    1. Any breach of this code, or any rule or procedure based thereon, will be viewed in a serious light, and officials committing such breach will be subject to disciplinary action. Officials who become aware of a breach of this code are required to immediately bring such breach to the attention of The Office of The Group Ombud, who must deal with it promptly and equitably and with due regard to confidentiality
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