Over the weekend this blog was in the news, when it was taken to pieces by the (now ex) ‘friend’ who introduced me to blogging more than two years ago.   It raised a number of interesting issues about blogging in general, blogging ethics, and the censorship or not of comments on blogs and website.

Background

Carl Momberg wrote a tourism newsletter CapeInfo for many years, and it was a cutting edge, incisive and often biting overview of the tourism industry.  He has no direct tourism experience, to our knowledge.  He was like a wolf at the doors of premiers and ministers of the province and of the mayor of the city, criticising their every tourism move.   He was very well connected, and had the good journalistic practice in those days of requesting comment from the persons he wrote about. 

I started my WhaleTales tourism newsletter 9 years ago, and could never match Momberg for his sting.  We often debated issues, but presented different perspectives, and we were both passionate about the retention of the then-Cape Town Tourism, of which I was the Deputy Chairman.  As Momberg wrote, I even offered the then-CEO Sheryl Ozinsky money to pay the salaries of staff and other running costs to keep Cape Town Tourism alive, but the City of Cape Town was bent on bleeding the tourism body dry financially, until it capitulated and became part of the new regime, which resulted in a new Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited, costing Cape Town the loss of its best marketer ever, being Sheryl Ozinsky!  

Carl travelled with his pet wolf Akela, about which he blogged.   We continued writing the WhaleTales newsletter,  and have been told that it has become the definitive tourism newsletter, with 25000 readers.   Momberg’s newsletter is irregular in its publication, and has lost its bite.  

More than two years ago Momberg invited me to blog on his website, and not knowing better, I accepted.   He clearly was looking for increased traffic to his site via my blog contribution.  When he started interfering with my writing style and content, setting conditions about what I was allowed to write about or not (to protect his own financial interests and relationships with the tourism industry), I started my own Whale Cottage blog and paid Momberg for the hosting of the blog and for his assistance for the short time that he had done so.  It is the best thing I could have done to not work with Momberg any more, and many asked me why I had associated with Momberg in the first place.  I love blogging and my blog, and have never looked back in the 26 months of writing it.  Momberg invited other bloggers to blog on his site too, but they have all left him and gone on their own, probably for the same reasons.

To create a stir, climb on a dubious bandwagon, and possibly to gain some new readers for his blog, Momberg has written a slanderous post about my alleged hand in closing down a tourism website.  He did not stop there – he has turned every word and action in our ‘friendship’ into a negative, and brought in other unrelated issues, to paint as dark a picture as possible.   He has forgotten the good journalistic practice of asking for my input and comment to his blog post before publishing it, and spewed forth malicious misinformation.  For the record, we have last spoken to each other more than two years ago!  My response to aspects of his blog post follows. 

Closure of Tourism website

I nor anyone else has any power to tell a server what to do or not to do.  As a website owner one usually deals with a webmaster, who has a relationship with the server, so that one cannot contact them directly.

Recently I spotted three defamatory comments made about me and Whale Cottage, by three persons whom I have never met and who have never stayed in my guest houses, in response to a comment I had written about my terrible stay at Sante Hotel and Spa.   The commenters wrote that Sante should ignore my comment, as I do not know anything about hospitality, it was claimed, and then made further defamatory comments.  As they were untrue and damaging, I followed the procedure of contacting the owner of the website, and requested the removal of the three comments.  He refused.  I then contacted the association of server companies in South Africa, and followed their procedure to request the removal of the three comments.  They contacted Hetzner, the server of the tourism website, and Hetzner in turn contacted the owner of the website, and gave him a specified period in which to remove the three comments, or face the closure of the website if he did not comply.   He refused to comply with the request from the Hetzner Abuse Department’s Gunther Breuninger, and the tourism website was closed down by Hetzner.   The owner has told Breuninger that he is moving to another server and reopening.   This website closure was laid at my door as an opening shot by Momberg, as if it was my doing.  He even implies that Breuninger is lying in his communication with him about this matter.

Fedhasa Board membership

I have written on this blog about the devious attempts made by then-FEDHASA Cape chairman Nils Heckscher to keep me off the Board of directors, when I had been nominated in the Small Accommodation category.  When I was elected to the Board, he made our Board meetings hell, constantly criticising my WhaleTales newsletters (prior to the days of blogging), and made me feel that we were having Whale Cottage instead of FEDHASA Cape Board meetings!   Heckscher was a very biased partial Chairman, and hand-picked his successor when his controversial reign was over to ensure that I did not get elected as Chairman!   From day one of being a  Board member I told my FEDHASA Cape Board colleagues that the MATCH terms and conditions were bad for small accommodation establishments.  I was ridiculed for this view, and was ultimately forced off the Board when the rest of the Board members cancelled my membership because of my anti-MATCH sentiments expressed in my newsletters.   

As they say in the classics, the rest is history – “MATCH” is the most hated word in the hospitality industry, and Hecksher got his karma returned, in that the hotel (Winchester Mansions) he is the GM of suffered one of the biggest cancellations of accommodation bookings by MATCH.

Momberg has been at odds with Fedhasa in the past, and therefore I am surprised that he included them in the post.  He was highly critical of the accommodation booking website for the World Cup, started by FEDHASA CEO Brett Dungan, and slanderously described our national “Minister of Tourism and his Department (DOT) as a bunch of blundering idiots”for dealing with Dungan!

Restaurant bannings

Grasping at straws, Momberg writes on the basis of hearsay about the fact that I am not allowed into some restaurants in Cape Town, mentioning Beluga specifically.

Restaurateurs in Cape Town are a sensitive lot, and luckily it is only a few that cannot stomach feedback and the reality of a review.   Let me list them:

1.   Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek – long before my blogging and restaurant review days, whilst I was living in Franschhoek, I regularly went to then-bistro iCi.  A comment I made to a manager about declining value for money went to owner Susan Huxter, resulting in the barring from Le Quartier Francais and to Bread & Wine (the winefarm Moreson belongs to Huxter’s brother Richard Friedman).  Huxter tried to get other Franschhoek restaurants to follow suit, but while she has a strong influence over Franschhoek, none of her restaurant colleagues complied with her request.   I have tried to meet with her to discuss her heavy-handedness and discrimination against me, and she has refused all contact.  Twice in the past three months I have been invited to attend the opening of art exhibitions at Le Quartier Francais, only to be uninvited again on the instruction of Huxter, demonstrating the unprofessionalism and pettiness of this business owner!   

2.   Beluga/Sevruga/Blonde- I attended a Cape Times book launch at Sevruga last year, and gave the restaurant a Sour Service Award for its poor ability to handle a group of 150 women who were offered a very restricted “chicken or beef” type menu choice.  I received no response from owner Oskar Kotze or Marketing Manager Samantha Obery to it.  Six months later the Camps Bay accommodation association, which I head up, was invited to Beluga, to try out their Christmas and New Year menus, as a PR exercise, so that the guest houses should recommend the restaurant.  We were seated, and then Obery came to me, asking me to leave the restaurant, as owner Oskar Kotze did not want me there, due to the Sevruga Sour Service Award.  I said that I was happy to speak to him, as this was surely a mistake, but he was not there.  I gave her my cell number so that he could call me, but he refused.  I then called him on his cellphone, and he refused to take the call.   In the end Obery was instructed by Kotze to call the police, to escort me out of the restaurant.   Beluga received a Sour Service Award for this “PR exercise”, in full view of the guest houses that they were meant to be impressing.

3.   Sotano by Caveau -  a week ago I posted a review of the newly opened Sotano by Caveau in Mouille Point.  It was a fair review, and highlighted teething problems, with the full knowledge that they would be fixed.  I wrote about going back to finish writing about the winelist, as this was not yet available on the day that I was at the restaurant.  When I returned the following day, the Operations Manager Ross Stillford told me that the owners had asked me to not return to Caveau and to Sotano by Caveau, due to my Sotano by Caveau review.  To add insult to injury, one of the owners, Brendon Crew, tweeted about the barring and referred to me as a “bitch”.   This caused a furore, and more than 50 comments have been posted to this review, mainly scathing about Caveau and its owner’s behaviour, with 1253 readers (best read review ever)having read the review in the past week.

4.  Carne – our exposure about the dishonest claim by owner Giorgio Nava of only serving organic lamb, beef and game from his farm in the Karoo led him to remove this fraudulent claim.

We have written more than a hundred restaurant reviews, and all of them have fairly documented our experiences in those restaurants. It is a poor reflection on the handful of restaurant owners listed above, that they are so small-minded to not be able to take valid feedback. 

We have helped restaurants in Cape Town and in the Winelands who ran winter specials  and are currently running summer specials  in publicising these, and we know that our list is extensively consulted by those seeking good value.  Even though we have been barred from Beluga and Sevruga, their specials are on our list, demonstrating that we bear no grudges against these restaurants.  We tweet a link to the Specials page on this blog every day, as a community service.  We also tweet and blog Restaurant news and information about new specials being added.

Reviews of Crush!

We have written about Crush!1, 2 and 3, and Momberg questions my right to do so.  We note that it is Michael Olivier, editor of Crush!, who first posted the link to Momberg’s blogpost on Twitter.   The Crush! team of Olivier,  and his contributors Andy Fenner (JamieWho? blog, now ex-contributor) and David Cope of The Foodie blog, as well his designers who tweet as @Crush_Online, initiated the terrorising Twitter campaign against me at a Crush! dinner party at Sophia Lindop’s house on 16 October, which has run non-stop for five weeks, with added input by Clare McKeon and Eamon McLoughlin of Spill blog, and to which Cope has added an SMS stalking campaign.   

Censorship of Comments

Most blogs allow comments to blog posts.   Early in my social media experience I experienced the vitriol and abuse of commenters to comments made on leading blogs such as Relax-with-Dax, Food24 and Rossouw’s Restaurants.  As I was honest enough to reveal my name, the comments became personal attacks against me as the commenter and lost track of the actual restaurant that was being commented upon.  JP Rossouw agreed to remove these, on the basis of a promise I made to him to never comment on his site again.   This may be why he has changed his review website, and one cannot see the latest comments listed anymore.   Dax Villanueva too has removed derogatory comments over time, and allows criticism up to a point.  He is receiving a fair amount of abuse himself at the moment.  Clare McKeon of Spill blog told me that she too has received critical comments, and deletes them when they disparage her or cause her blog embarassment, given that she is wanting to gain as many advertisers as possible on her site, even if it is at the cost of losing her readers.

The vitriolic attacks by other commenters has led almost all commenters to comment anonymously, only the inexperienecd commenters using their own name.   This means that comments can be even more scathing than if the real name is used.  When we are uncertain about the credentials of the commenter, we send an e-mail to the address provided, and have often found the e-mail address to be a bogus one.

As a topic, comments and censorship thereof, has been receiving a fair amount of airtime in our Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meetings.  General agreement has been that some comments are vitriolic and abusive towards the writer of the blog or to the commenters, not what one would want to have associated with one’s blog.  We have decided that it is perfectly in order to not accept abusive and disparaging comments on our blogs, and that we have the right to excise these from our blog.  No commenter has the right to expect to have such abusive comments published.   But having said that, we encourage debate – comments are good for web traffic, bring in new readers, and present different perspectives.  Such an example is Sotano by Caveau, where the action of the owner has led to a stream of mainly negative comments about the parent restaurant Caveau. 

We will be interested to see how Momberg copes with comments to his blogpost, and whether he will resort to censorship.  He has already censored a word used by a commenter and has refused to allow commenter “Dieter” to comment.   He has already received criticism from outspoken blogger Jane-Anne Hobbs about not posting her comment, and therefore she has written her intended comment on her own blog.  Momberg has just closed down comments and one must register to comment, a new form of censorship -  “Due to increasing violations of CapeInfo’s Terms of Use with fraudulent emails being provided, we have introduced the requirement that only logged in users may post comments. You need to register on CapeInfo before you can log in. That you do near the top of the page. For help, please click on Frequently Asked Questions under the “Help” navigation tab.  Where people hide behind fraudulent email addresses, one can assume that they have something to hide and cannot participate in open discussion and debate. We do not censor content although we reserve the right to edit.”  Could it be that Momberg does not like comments which may be written in support of this blog?   He has allowed two Caveau staff (Sabrina – SD and Kirstie) to post comments unrelated to his content to his blog post which I refused to my Sotano by Caveau review! 

While he sets himself up as the “judge” of the tourism industry, Momberg has no ethics when he presents a one-sided perspective containing dishonest information on his subject matter!

We deplore the backstabbing and bitching taking place in social media, and while we recognise its importance in the marketing mix, we cannot agree with the low levels of personal attack that are allowed by companies such as Twitter and in blogs in the interest of Freedom of Speech.  Given the amount of disinformation being put out into the cyberspace, I welcome any questions you may have or comments you wish to make: info@whalecottage.com.

POSTSCRIPT 22/11: Martin Hatchuel, the editor of the Tourism website that has been taken down by Hetzner, has written a newsletter which Carl Momberg has distributed for him today.  In it Hatchuel writes: “I responded by refusing to remove the ‘offending’ material because it is my reader’s right to say what they want (within reason, of course – and only the courts can really decide what that reason should be). As a publisher, I can choose to let comments ride, and as a reader, you can choose to take offence – but if you don’t like what’s there, you do have recourse to the courts.  I felt that if von Ulmenstein can say nasty stuff about others, why shouldn’t others be able to say what they wanted about her?”.   We are shocked that Hatchuel is so unprofessional that he would allow untruthful abuse and disparagement to be posted as comments, when he writes that he has the right to edit and refuse commments, exercising his own censorship, exactly the issue he is complaining about in respect of Hetzner’s actions!  He cannot have read our newsletters or blog posts if he describes my writing as “nasty stuff”.

POSTSCRIPT 22/11:  Reading the few comments to the Momberg blog post it is interesting to see that ex-Fedhasa Board colleagues and Cape Town Tourism Board members Nils Heckscher and Susanne Faussner-Ringer, and Cape Town Tourism PR Manager Skye Grove (recipient of a Sour Service Award for her unprofessional behaviour) have written disparaging comments – interesting in that Whale Cottage Camps Bay is a member of Cape Town Tourism! 

POSTSCRIPT 22/11:  Now Momberg is crying wolf in that he has turned to Hetzner to complain about this blog post, and I have had to remove part of a sentence about him!  Wasn’t his blog post about my complaint to Hetzner about the removal of comments on Hatchuel’s website, widely publicised by him?!  Double standards!  His website is hosted in London, disallowing us to have defamatory comments removed from his blogpost – makes you think, as Nedbank used to say!

POSTSCRIPT 22/11:  Skye Grove has also approached Hetzner, and has asked for the removal of our post about her Sour Service Award, awarded to her for retweeting a defamatory Tweet, motivating it as follows: “This has adversely affected my professional integrity”.  One wonders why she retweeted the Tweet, in the knowledge that it is defamatory, given her position as PR Manager of Cape Town Tourism.  She also has requested Hetzner to close down our blog.  She has not held back in her opinion about our blog in her comments on Momberg’s site, as well as on other sites, and retweets whatever negative she can find written about us – clearly a vendetta, and another case of double standards!   Our complaint about Ms Grove’s defamatory Tweet was rejected by her boss Mariette du Toit-Helmbold.  Ms Grove has no problem in disparaging Cape Town Tourism’s funder, the City of Cape Town, in terms of its supply of services to Cape Town residents.

POSTSCRIPT 22/11:  Hetzner appears to have realised that it was too heavy-handed in its dealings with the Tourism website, and has reinstated it.  We welcome this move.  Momberg has not updated his blogpost to announce this, and it basically removes the foundation of his blogpost!   We await his apology for the defamatory comments made. 

POSTSCRIPT 23/11:  Skye Grove has returned to Hetzner, after we made an amendment.   She has now called for the removal of all references to her name on our blog.  Yet she has disparaged us widely in comments on other blogs and by retweeting defamatory Tweets.   She incorrectly blames me for the “(unlawful) action” of Hetzner in closing down the Tourism site (it is clear that this was Hetzner’s doing, and that the site has been reinstated), refers to our blog in its “lack of journalistic quality and substance thereof”, and to my lack of “journalistic ethics or standards”!  Her boss Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold has written a long comment about Social Media and Freedom of Speech, which we have published in the Comments section to this blogpost.  She calls for “honesty, transparency, respect, privacy, relevance, and responsibility within the social media communications realm”, yet her PR Manager Skye Grove does not play by these rules.   Today I declined a request for donating accommodation to the Cape Town Tourism staff function, given Ms Grove’s behaviour.

POSTSCRIP 23/11:  David Cope has also turned to Hetzner, wanting any reference to his name removed, and the whole blog closed down.  It is ironic that Cope complains to Hetzner about…. “damaged my reputation, but has brought my business name into disrepute”.  Yet Cope has had no shame in sending 285 shockingly disparaging Tweets about me, terrorised me with an sms stalker campaign, and retweeted defamatory Tweets.

POSTSCRIPT 23/11:  Carl Momberg has also returned to Hetzner’s door, complaining that I have not removed more content about him.  He incorrectly makes the deduction that my partial removal signals that I “acknowledged” publishing incorrect content – no Mr Momberg, I am subject to the same threat by Hetzner to have my website closed down if I do not make amendments, as was your friend Mr Hatchuel!  He contests almost every reference to him in this blogpost, describing them to be “untrue” , “misleading” and “she cannot prove otherwise”!   He demands of Hetzner : “I demand the whole post be taken down.  If there are further snide and defamatory comments about me or CapeInfo, I will issue further taken down requests, pending legal action”!   Momberg has not apologised for his defamatory blogpost, nor made any amendments, yet expects me to remove the whole blogpost in response to his!

The double standards of Cope, Grove and Momberg is interesting, in that they are quite happy to disparage me and my blog, yet do not want me to write about their actions.  We will not remove any further material from this blogpost or blog.

POSTSCRIPT 24/11: Michael Olivier, editor of Crush!, is also crushed by our blog, and has requested that it be closed down, that all current content relating to Crush! be removed, and that any future writing about Crush! by me be disallowed!   Olivier writes a number of untruths, despite having to declare his information to be “true and correct”, to motivate the closure of my blog:  my reviews of Crush! are “full of incorrect information”; I did not consult him – we used e-mail, sms’s, phone calls and our blog to invite Olivier to respond and participate in each of our three reviews, all with no response; that I have created false comments about his magazines on my blog, which is devoid of all truth and is libellous; he claims that I have “affected the livelihoods of restaurants, publications (I have not written about any other than Crush!) and businesses”, a libellous claim once again; that I had This Tourism Weekly website taken down – we know that it is Hetzner that took down the site as Mr Hatchuel, its owner, refused to heed the Take-Down notice; that he is “missing out on important functions which I will not attend due to her presence”; and that he has lost clients for Crush! and his radio programme due to my writing.   Double standards once again, as Olivier was the first to Tweet the link to The Tourism Weekly disparaging blogpost by Momberg on Saturday.

POSTSCRIPT 28/11: We have decided to follow the example of Momberg and Hatchuel, in moving our website to an international server.   This ensures our freedom of speech, and that the likes of Momberg and his merry men (and woman) will not have any power to have any content removed from our blog, nor for them to have our blog closed down!  Predictably, Momberg is furious about our move.   Again, we deplore Momberg’s double standards in defaming and disparaging us, yet crying wolf when we write the truth about him. 

POSTSCRIPT 29/11:  We have had to edit our writing about David Cope and Carl Momberg above, under threat of closure of the site by our server Hetzner, and also a blackmail threat by David Cope in his abusive Twitter campaign.   The edits we have done in no way reflect acknowledgement by us of any error or defamation, as suggested by Carl Momberg in his complaint to Hetzner.

 

 

POSTSCRIPT 29/11:  We were forced by Hetzner to remove the content of this blogpost until we moved the website to an international server.   Talk about censorship! 

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:  www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage