Entries tagged with “Most Controversial Blog”.


saba2013votebadgeWe have become increasingly critical of the SA Blog Awards, the organisation of it having become so bad that we have decided to not enter again unless the organiser JP Naude is not involved anymore.  The winners and runner-up list contains largely unknown blogs.

We first entered the SA Blog Awards in 2010, in which year we made the Top 10 ‘Most Controversial Blog‘ shortlist.   In that year Will Mellor (better known as his alias Seth Rotherham of no longer vibey 2Oceansvibe) won almost every category (there were many more in those days), even though 2Oceansvibe could never be described as a blog!  He was a co-organiser of the Awards the following year, and seems to no longer be involved.  We have criticised former Good Hope FM sport presenter JP’s role as organiser and co-ordinator, not being a blogger!  JP cannot write to save his life, as this classic paragraph on his website www.jpnaude.com illustrates:  ’During this time JP worked for Mr Tokyo Sexwale and succesfully managed the Bastille Festival as well as the launch of the Nelson Mandela statue at The Drakenstein prison where for president Nelson Mandel (sic) was released from‘!

Every year the announcement of the SA Blog Awards is later and later, and feels like an afterthought, and so too it was this year.  Being on their mailing list, we received an e-mail to announce the Awards competition, and requesting one to enter.  We were sent the SA Blog Awards voting badge to add to our blog.  None of the few e-mails from the SA Blog Awards identified the name of the writer of the e-mails.   (more…)

Ian Bartes

Chairman: Cape Town Tourism

15 September 2011

Dear Ian

MEMBERSHIP OF CAPE TOWN TOURISM

Thank you for your letter regarding the status of our Whale Cottage Camps Bay membership of Cape Town Tourism, dated 8 September 2011.   In your 9-page letter you request us to motivate why Cape Town Tourism should not terminate our membership due to our Blog, and more specifically, selected comments on it!

I thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight in terms of the allegations you make about our alleged ‘barrage of cyber-criticism’, ‘cyber attacks’, and ‘CTT bashing’ in your letter, and for the challenge to revisit our policy as far as comments on our Whale Cottage Blog goes. As the criticism is about our Blog, I am posting my reply to you on our Blog, so that members of Cape Town Tourism should be informed of your proposed action, and allow them to participate in the debate about Social Media and its responsible use in tourism marketing, being a public interest matter.

For the background, you will no doubt know that my PR company Relationship Marketing previously, and now my Whale Cottage Camps Bay, have been a member of Cape Town Tourism for about 20 years, motivated by our belief that it is the right thing to be a member of one’s local tourism bureau, and we have adopted this policy in the four towns in the Western Cape in which we have Whale Cottages.  In addition, I was a Board member of Cape Town Tourism for a number of years, of its previous (still not yet wound-up) Section 21 company, and was its Deputy Chairman, working closely with then-CEO Sheryl Ozinsky to run the most successful tourism bureau in the country at the time.  Our loyalty towards Cape Town Tourism has been visible to your CEO, in that we assisted her to get her current job, and in that I invited her to address members of our Camps Bay Accommodation association, which I head up, to motivate our members to become members of Cape Town Tourism. In fact, we made it mandatory for members of our association to be members of Cape Town Tourism, until our members regrettably voted against this membership criterion a few months ago, due to their dissatisfaction with the benefits of membership of Cape Town Tourism, leading most Camps Bay guest houses to not renew their membership of your organisation.

You may also know that we have written a WhaleTales newsletter for the past ten years, and it is a tourism newsletter, including general news about tourism in Cape Town and the Western Cape, and news about local restaurants, the wine industry, the film industry, whale watching, and any other news that is related to tourism.  Our Whale Cottage Portfolio Blog was started three years ago, and we publish a daily post about a tourism-related topic.  Our blog is known for its honesty, and achieved the honour of a Top 10 listing of ‘Most Controversial Blog’ in the SA Blog Awards last year.   You will note our blog credo is “independent.incisive.informative”, and we have lived up to this at all times.   Over time, both the newsletter and blog have achieved a substantial readership.  Our writing has not changed over the past ten years, and Cape Town Tourism has been allowed to contribute input and response over the years.  In the past three months (i.e. out of 92 blogposts), we have written nine blogposts about Cape Town Tourism and its marketing activities, and another 21 have referred to Cape Town Tourism in a secondary manner.

It is therefore a surprise that we should receive your letter of allegations relating to our recent writing about Cape Town Tourism, given that it is no more or less in quantity than before.  What has changed in content is that we have become more critical of the Marketing activities (or rather, lack of) by Cape Town Tourism, after it became clear to us that there was no recognition of nor action by your management of the tourism crisis in our city, until we wrote about it on our Blog, and it was then picked up as a front page story by the Cape Argus. In our capacity as a member of Cape Town Tourism, as a ratepayer of Cape Town, and as a writer, it concerned me greatly to hear your CEO answer a question about the positioning of Cape Town at the ‘strategic plan’ presentation at the Baxter Theatre recently, which reflected her obviously uninformed Marketing understanding.  The fact that she had to call in consultants to write the plan, and Australian ones at that, deserved intense debate in the interest of the industry.

Our response to your adverse allegations about our Blog is as follows:

*   No Code of Conduct has ever been sent to us as members, and therefore not signed or agreed to in acceptance.  In the past week your offices have not been able to honour our request to send us such a signed document.

*   Your nine-page letter refers repeatedly to us not treating Cape Town Tourism, its staff, and its representatives with ‘honesty, respect and dignity’, as per the Cape Town Tourism Code of Conduct, in six comments and two blogposts on our Blog, for which you present examples of alleged ‘disrespect’, but no allegations of dishonesty nor loss of dignity are made or substantiated by you.  We reject these allegations with contempt, given that our blogposts and comments have not been designed to prejudice Cape Town Tourism and its agents.

*   You write about the ‘immense volume, intensity and frequency of the criticism’ (clause 5.1.1), ‘frequency and intensity of these cyber-attacks’ (clause 5.1.2), and ‘torrent of criticism’ (clause 5.1.3), and it demonstrates your lack of understanding of Social Media.   None of these alleged criticisms of frequency by yourselves are contrary to any code of conduct nor to Social Media practice, and cannot be linked to an alleged ‘attempt to denigrate CTT (Cape Town Tourism)’, as claimed by you.

*   You refer to “Twitter posts” (the word is ‘Tweets’) as being a problem, yet present no evidence of this!

*   You (mistakenly) refer to a commenter on our blog as a ‘follower’, implying that we have a special relationship with our commenters!  Most commenters are unknown to us, especially as they use false names and/or gmail addresses.  Interesting is how you take one comment out of hundreds on our blog out of context, to support your ‘argument’!  You have not fairly highlighted the numerous replies to comments that I have written, defending our relationship with your CEO, and stating over and over again that nothing that we write is meant personally about her or her colleagues.  We have also expressed over the years our respect for your CEO and the good work that she and her team has done in amalgamating the Visitor Bureaus in Cape Town. This does not mean, however, that some activities by your organisation are not worthy of criticism.

*   Your clause 5.1.3. is devoid of all logic

*   Your clause 5.1.4. alleges ‘CTT bashing’, which you link directly to comments being disallowed on our blog.  As the owner of a blog, one has the right to disallow defamatory, disparaging, and dishonest comments.  Whenever we post a blogpost about Cape Town Tourism, we receive what can be described as ‘hate speech’ towards ourselves, and while they may state their support for Cape Town Tourism, they also ‘bash’, to use your word, myself and my Whale Cottages, which is not what comments are intended for.  A question begging an answer is how you would know that (unpublished) comments have been sent to our blog, given that comments are not visible until I allow them?  Could it be that the sending of comments in support of Cape Town Tourism has been encouraged by your PR department, or dare I allege, even written by Cape Town Tourism, using pseudonyms and gmail accounts?!

*   It is the comment we received from Mavis Wilken (clause 5.2.1) that appears to be at the crux of your letter, as we received a separate letter from your lawyers Webber Wentzel on the same day, threatening legal action if her comment is not removed from our Blog in its entirety.   We had edited the comment soon after it was allowed (30 hours is an extreme exaggeration), to protect your CEO.  The comment was received on the same day as Ms Wilken forwarded an e-mail to us which she had sent to the tourism representatives of the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government, alleging mismanagement by Cape Town Tourism in a number of respects.  Under threat of legal action by yourselves, but not in admission of any wrong-doing, we have removed Ms Wilken’s comment in its entirety.

*   The remark made by Ian Macfarlane, the Australian ‘Strategetic consultant’ of Cape Town Tourism, was written by me in a positive manner, and was expressed by him as a compliment to your CEO in her ability to obtain funds from the City of Cape Town and other sources.  To read an allegation of ‘corruption’ , defamation, and disparagement into this compliment is preposterous, and is disparaging in itself!

*  We have noted a surge in disparaging comments from a small collection of commenters (Marco, Mike, and Jeremy Claasen in the main, the latter sometimes writing the same comment six times a day, in the mistaken belief that it will be published), all in support of Cape Town Tourism, and wildly disparaging towards ourselves, whenever we publish a blogpost about Cape Town Tourism.  We have had to increasingly request these commenters to rewrite their comments by editing out their disparagement, and we delete these comments if they are not rephrased.  It is our Blog, and quite frankly we can write on it what we wish (you appear to have little problem with its content, and more with its comments), and can allow reasonable comments.  For the first time we have edited two commenters’ comments, both of these edits relating to blogposts in which Cape Town Tourism is mentioned, received from Ms Wilken and Maria.  No disparagement was intended nor implied in our reply to Mike’s comment (clauses 5.2.3 and 5.2.4).  To read into our reply to him that Cape Town Tourism ‘…is deserving of no support…’, as alleged by you, and that it is an ‘..attempt on your part to undermine and cause embarrassment to the organisation’ is ludicrous, and is rejected with contempt! Being a member of the tourism industry, it would be ludicrous for me to defame or disparage the good name of an industry association that my company is a member of.

*   The comment we made about your CEO’s lack of support of the Grand Prix in Cape Town was exactly as you stated it, made in ‘jest’ (clause 5.2.5). No allegation was made that your CEO is ‘…not of sound mind and sober senses’, and cannot be deduced from our writing.  We reject your allegation.

*   You appear to be looking for allegations of implied ‘corruption’ in reading our Blog and its comments. The ‘corruption’ link you make to my observation about your Board members Nils Heckscher and Susanne Faussner-Ringer, in their capacity as previous Board members of FEDHASA Cape, and their irresponsible attempts at coercing the accommodation industry to sign with MATCH for the FIFA World Cup last year, is far-fetched and incomprehensible (clause 5.2.6).  It therefore cannot be seen to be ..‘unfounded, unsubstantiated and patently disparaging’, as alleged by you, as the tourism industry knows about the financial loss it suffered as a result of signing with MATCH on the recommendation of these two directors, and it is ironic that the loss suffered included the properties managed by Mr Heckscher and Mrs Faussner-Ringer!  It is also rather obvious that your organisation is using the same threatening technique to terminate our membership, as FEDHASA Cape attempted to two years ago, when we spoke out against MATCH!

*   Your response to our claim that Cape Town Tourism ‘planted’ the ’100 Women 100 Wine’ blogpost comment from ‘Thandiwe Motse’ is factually incorrect, as I did not write that it emanated ‘..from the offices of CTT’, as alleged by you.  Comments can be sent to a blog from any computer, and after hours too (clause 5.2.7).  Cape Town Tourism’s link to this comment is clear, especially given that no Google reference exists for ‘Ms Motse’, that she provided an incorrect e-mail address for herself, very odd for a businessperson, and that her surname was incorrectly spelt in both the comment and Cape Town Tourism Tweets about this event.  ’Ms Motse’ would have been welcome to e-mail and to call me, to express her point of view to me directly, as the owner of the Blog, rather than to complain via her ‘friend’ about our Blog to Cape Town Tourism!  No racial slur was implied, as alleged by you!   We have proof that your PR Manager has directed an (unpublished) comment to our Blog, using a false name.

*  Over and above the specific denials we have made against your allegations, we categorically deny your allegations of ‘bad faith’, ‘malicious intent’, ‘evident satisfaction in what you perceive to be failings…’ , as well as of ‘disparaging, undermining and even defamatory comment and criticism’.

Lastly, comments have become the bane of blogs, and are increasingly disparaging, rude, and even crude, not always aimed at the subject matter of the blogpost, but often at the blog owner too.  Initially our policy was to allow most comments, in the interest of freedom of speech without prejudicing tourism, but soon it became evident that commenters saw our Blog as a means of ‘blog bashing’ us in the main.  As the blog is a voluntary unpaid-for activity we do for the love of it, we see no reason to post such disparaging comments.

We are delighted that you support that ‘..our members are entitled to engage in debate about the direction, strategy and performance of CTT, and that this debate may be ‘robust’. We believe that we have acted within these guidelines, as well as the Freedom of Speech which is ensconced in the Constitution of our country. We feel that your organisation’s CEO may be over-sensitive to Social Media, which spares no one, including myself and my company!

While you and I are debating ‘respect‘ in the main, I believe that respect is a two-way courtesy, and therefore we have the right to demand respect, and that we should not be disparaged or defamed by your organisation, its CEO, and staff too.  Consider the following examples of disrespect which have been shown to ourselves as a member of Cape Town Tourism, and as a blogger listed on your Cape Town Tourism media list:

*   The Re-Tweet in October last year by your PR Manager Skye Grove of a Tweet by Naashon Zalk, of which the content was defamatory to ourselves, making her guilty of defamation too.  A complaint lodged to your CEO about the defamation was rejected, reflecting your CEO’s lack of understanding of the law of defamation.  Another defamatory Tweet by @Lesterkk was also Re-Tweeted by Ms Grove on 22 November 2010.

*   The acceptance by Cape Town Tourism of a complaint lodged against our Whale Cottage Hermanus (not a member of Cape Town Tourism), by Mr Zalk about our warning to our guest house colleagues in Hermanus about an attempt by him and his House & Leisure editor wife Naomi Larkin to defraud us, instead of it being passed on to the Hermanus Tourism Bureau, as would have been the correct procedure. Cape Town Tourism attempted to bring us into disrepute with the provincial Consumer Protector, by passing on Mr Zalk’s complaint to them.  We have never heard from them again about the matter, after explaining Mr Zalk’s alleged fraud attempt against us.

*   Ms Grove attempted to have our website www.whalecottage.com, which was hosted with Hetzner, closed down last year, which led us to move it to an American server, at a cost to ourselves.

*   The accusation on 22 November 2010 by Ms Grove, in a comment posted on the ‘Spaniard in the Works’ blog, that I had ‘unlawful‘(ly) taken down Martin Hatchuel’s website is defamatory.  It was clear, by Mr Hatchuel’s own admission, that his refusal to delete a defamatory comment on his website, leading to a complaint against his site, had led Hetzner to close down the website.  In the same comment, Ms Grove disparages my ‘lack of journalistic quality and substance’!  Further content in her comment to this blogpost, as well as on the Salma Gandi blog, demonstrates the personal issues she has with ourselves, something a ‘professional’ PR Manager should not express of a member of Cape Town Tourism, or any other person for that matter, on a public platform!

*   In the past three months Whale Cottage has made a concerted effort to improve its Facebook presence. Proactive suggestions by Facebook about prospective persons to ‘befriend’ led us to Ms Grove, and so we sent a Facebook Friend request.  The immediate message we received from her questioned why we would want to be a friend.  Ms Grove never accepted the Friend request, as is her right. However, later that day, she Tweeted that she could still taste the vomit in her mouth from the Friend request that she had received earlier that day!

*   Your CEO, new Marketing Manager Velma Corcoran, and PR Manager have blocked us on Twitter, but your CEO reconsidered her action, and unblocked us.  Blocking is a severe sign of disrespect on Twitter.  It is such a shame that your managers should be missing out on my pearls of wisdom contained in my Tweets about Cape Town!

*  We have good reason to believe that Ms Grove is part of the team writing the disparaging, libelous, and defamatory ‘Whalespotter’ Twitter campaign about Whale Cottage and myself.  A Tweet on Monday this week  referred to your letter by implication, which Ms Grove would have inside knowledge of.

*   In the past month your CEO has refused to respond to our e-mails, which have requested information for input to our blogposts, despite an invitation by the City of Cape Town representative on your Board, Ms Mkefa, to direct any question to Mrs Helmbold.  Your CEO Tweeted on 31 August that she would only answer questions from us via the Cape Town Tourism website, and a few days later a detailed justification for the appointment of the Australian Strategetic Consultants was posted on your website.  When one receives no reply to e-mails, the negative inference is that the organisation is trying to hide something.

*  Cape Town Tourism has not reacted to the blogposts that you refer to in your letter, having the opportunity to do so via a comment to each blogpost, as would any other commenter.  In the past we have posted all comments received from your CEO, either in the blogpost, or as a comment.

*  Your City of Cape Town Mayoral Executive Committee member for Tourism, Grant Pascoe, directly responsible for the R40 million allocation of the City’s monies to your organisation, has refused to return our calls or to respond to our e-mails relating to Cape Town Tourism.

No blog forces readership of it on anyone, and therefore your CEO and staff are welcome to save their valuable time and to not read our Whale Cottage Portfolio Blog in such detail, and to rather focus that time on marketing Cape Town, given the severity of the tourism crisis.

It would appear that you hold me solely responsible for criticism of Cape Town Tourism’s performance. However, blogger Carl Momberg recently wrote a critical piece, also questioning your organisation’s ability to market Cape Town.  The Cape Times picked this up and ran with the story, quoting additional tourism players expressing their dissatisfaction with the performance of your organisation.  Will you also be attempting to censor Mr Momberg?

Surely the monies of Cape Town Tourism should more wisely be spent on marketing Cape Town, and not on lawyers’ fees?   Surely your organisation would want to retain members and not lose even more members?  Surely you do not want Cape Town Tourism to be perceived as the ‘big bully’ of tourism media censorship?

Earlier this year your membership officer Mrs Cathy Alberts begged us to rejoin as a member of Cape Town Tourism, and I explained to her my reservations to do so, given the unprofessional behaviour and disrespect I and my company have experienced from Cape Town Tourism and its staff, as detailed above.  We were surprised about Mrs Alberts’ insistence that we rejoin Cape Town Tourism, and it was our ‘patriotism’ to Cape Town, and loyalty to Cape Town Tourism, that made us rejoin.

Given the disrespect which Cape Town Tourism, your CEO Mrs Helmbold, your PR Manager Ms Grove, and you as Chairman with your Board of Directors, through this one-sided disparaging letter, have shown Whale Cottage, coupled with the lack of delivery on the promised Cape Town Tourism membership benefits, we have decided to not renew our membership of Cape Town Tourism, which expired at the end of August 2011, for the next year.  We reserve the right to re-apply for membership in future.  We will continue the debate about the marketing of Cape Town, and will continue to write about the activities of your organisation, as well as any other body handling the marketing of Cape Town.   I am available to share my tourism and marketing experience with your organisation’s management at any time that it is needed, in the interest of our common passion for our beautiful city Cape Town!

Warm whale wishes

Chris von Ulmenstein

Member

Whale Cottage Portfolio cc

POSTSCRIPT 15/9: We have just (11h41) received a follow-up letter from Webber Wentzel, Cape Town Tourism’s lawyers, making a demand that we apologise to Mrs Helmbold for Ms Wilken’s alleged ‘defamatory comment’, promise to “…desist from, in the future, publishing any further such defamatory comments about our clients on the Blog and/or any other cyber-medium used by you to communicate to the public including,but not limited to, Twitter and Facebook”, and provide the ‘correct and full name’ of ‘the so-called Mavis Wilken’, so that they can take ‘steps on behalf of our clients against the author’. We are shocked that Cape Town Tourism could be setting itself as the Tourism information censor!  We await with interest their reaction to our Open Letter!

POSTSCRIPT 18/9:  In an interview with the Cape Argus published today, Cape Town CEO Mrs Helmbold is quoted as saying that Whale Cottage Camps Bay is still a member of Cape Town Tourism, as our membership has not been resigned by letter.  There is no form that we are aware of to complete to resign one’s membership, and one would have thought that the last paragraph to this blogpost, addressed to its Chairperson, motivating why we will not be renewing our long-standing membership, as well as the non-payment of the annual membership fee, for the period 1 September 2011 – August 2012, would have been a clear communication that we have no intention to renew our membership for the next year!   We are considering our legal options regarding a defamatory Tweet sent by Cape Town Tourism on 15 September, and Re-Tweeted by Mrs Helmbold, stating “Whale Cottage Membership Termination“.

POSTSCRIPT 19/9: We have posted our new policy on comments received to blogposts written about Cape Town Tourism today, in the light of the letter we received from the Chairman of Cape Town Tourism, as well as two letters received from the lawyers of Cape Town Tourism.

POSTSCRIPT 23/9:  In response to our lawyer’s letter to Cape Town Tourism, to confirm that our Letter to its Chairman Ian Bartes posted on our Blog above is confirmation of our non-renewal of our membership of Cape Town Tourism for the next year, Cape Town Tourism lawyers Webber Wentzel have sent a three-page lawyer’s letter, accepting our non-renewal, which somehow had not been clear to Cape Town Tourism from our blogpost above!  One wonders why Cape Town Tourism is wasting its scarce financial resources on legal fees against a past member of Cape Town Tourism!

POSTSCRIPT 6/10:  Under pressure from ourselves, Cape Town Tourism has revised its misleading and defamatory statement about our membership of Cape Town Tourism on its website, confirming their acceptance of our communication that we have chosen to not renew our membership for 2011/2012.

Whale Cottage and I have been the subject of a most vicious defamatory and destructive Twitter campaign in the past week, with unsubstantiated untruthful allegations made, aimed at damaging the reputation of our company and of myself.   The Twitter campaign fabricated information for the benefit of causing a sensation.  Initially the account was set up as an impersonation of myself, by appearing to be my personal Twitter account.  Twitter closed the account down temporarily last Friday, until the perpetrator changed the Biography on the Twitter page.  Not only was it malicious in content and libelous, but it was also threatening in its aggressive tone.

I have written this blogpost with the purpose of acknowledging that we are aware of the campaign, that we know who drove it, and that we believe in what we do and what we stand for.   We do not want to signal through silence that the abusive campaign contained any truth, other than the colour of my jacket that I wore at the OYO lunch on Friday, referred to in one of the Tweets, bringing the perpetrator and his companion into the foodie blogging community!

So how did this campaign arise?  About 2 weeks ago I wrote a review about Crush!3, as I have also done about the first two issues of the Crush! digital food and wine magazines, of which Michael Olivier is the editor.  A number of food bloggers and our readers posted comments on the Blog, the majority being in agreement with our point of view.  We have regularly requested input from Olivier in response to our reviews, but have received none.  In fact, his reaction has been to block us on Twitter, to not respond at all to communication, and to not acknowledge my presence at a recent industry function, even though we have been acquainted for many years.   On Saturday 16 October, the Crush! team of editor Olivier, and contributors Sophia Lindop, Andy Fenner (JamieWho?) and David Cope (of The Foodie blog) , who also owns the PR company called Established & Partners, with Chef’s Warehouse and Cookery School as sole client, it would appear, and Caveau/HQ/Gourmet Burger, Rudera Wines, Cape Classics and Hippo Hotel as ex-clients) had dinner at Lindop’s house to celebrate Crush!3.  On Twitter one was informed about the dinner through the attendees’ Tweets.  A Tweet by Fenner “Having a whale of a time with the @Crush_Online team” first caught my eye that evening,  which was reTweeted by Cope (but since removed), and echoed by the Crush! designers on the @Crush_Online Twitter account “also having a whale of a time. Flap Flap”, a few minutes later.  

An hour later a full-scale campaign began, with a total of 99 disparaging Tweets sent over the period of a week, one more demeaning than another.   A number of clues allowed us to link the campaign to Cope, information which we have handed to the police.   An abusive collection of e-mails was received from Cope as well, and there were clear parallels in what he wrote by e-mail and in the Tweets of the abusive Twitter account.  When we alluded on our blog to the Crush! team, and Cope in particular, being responsible for this childish campaign, there was no response from Olivier to deny it, and thereby he has condoned it.  We invited him to comment on our exposure in this blog post, and were surprised to receive a response from him for the first time since Crush! was published (we are delighted that Olivier acknowledges our input, but surprised to read that he values it, given his reaction to it, as detailed above): “I am not aware of any campaign, by any member of the Crush team, to defame you or Whale Cottage.  We would not embark on a defamation campaign when we are trying to build an online community willing to engage with us in an open, honest and constructive manner.   At Crush we value all constructive feedback and the fact that you have taken the time to read Crush and to make suggestions.  Crush magazine is in its third edition and determined to establish itself in a new market.  Needless to say, the Crush team would not like its brand linked to campaigns that aim to defame. I would therefore appreciate it, if you could forward any material that uses the Crush brand without our permission”.

Our Whale Cottage Blog has been controversial (no surprise that we were nominated and voted a Top 10 finalist in the Most Controversial Blog category in the recent 2010 SA Blog Awards).  We have exposed the dishonest claim by Carne restaurant that all its meat is organic (claim since removed from their website); we have awarded Sour Service Awards every Friday, never popular amongst its recipients; we have exposed the conflict of interest in the running of tourism matters in Hermanus; we have been critical of many restaurants that we have reviewed; and we have been critical of Crush!, but have acknowledged that it is improving.  This does not always make us popular amongst those businesses that we have written about.   We are proud of this Blog, and present the truth as we experience and see it.  We are not afraid to tackle any topic. Our reward is the 40000 unique readers reading our Blog every month, and our more than 1300 Twitter followers.

I have asked myself whether one changes tack in the face of such an abusive and emotionally violent and terrorising Twitter campaign.  Some people I spoke to used the PR adage that all publicity is good publicity.  Others said that social media memory is short, and that Cope would run out of things to fabricate, which is what happened.    But the overwhelming response was that I should change nothing about this Blog, and that I should continue with what we do.  This is wonderful support.   Some very special readers and followers were brave enough to react to the campaign publicly, and I am most grateful to all of them.  We are also grateful to our Twitter followers who saw the petty campaign for what it was, and unfollowed or blocked the abusive Twitter account. 

One of the characteristics of social media is that the boundaries of what one can say are blurred, with no clear guidelines of what is acceptable, and what is not.   There is no consistency in the different social media platforms and their codes of conduct.  Freedom of speech seems to be the overwhelming principle of this new method of communication, often at the expense of the truth.

Freedom of speech brings with it responsibilities, and cannot ignore the law, which dictates that one cannot disparage and defame others.  Good journalistic practice – yes, Bloggers, Facebookers and Twitterers are “New Age” journalists – is that information presented must be checked for accuracy, and that one cannot make statements about others unless they are proven.  The word “alleged” should precede any label one would give the action of any other person one is writing about, unless they have been convicted of the action they have been accused of.

This raises the question as to what the limits are for social media users, and what responsibility sits with Social Media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Blogging.

Blogging seems to have few restrictions, as there are numerous blogging platforms.  Many bloggers use WordPress, but the company does not specify a Code of Conduct.  The servers hosting the blogs may have a code of conduct, but these are not normally visible to the blogger, especially if one works via a webmaster.

Facebook’s Code of Conduct is lengthy, and appears to be the most protective against disparagement and defamation.  It is also very reactive to complaints in taking action immediately, not a surprise when one sees ‘The Social Network’ movie about the establishment of Facebook.  It states the following in respect of protecting one’s rights, the closest it gets to addressing what one may or not say:

“1.     Protecting Other People’s Rights

We respect other people’s rights, and expect you to do the same.     

1.     You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.

2.     We can remove any content or information you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement.

3.     We will provide you with tools to help you protect your intellectual property rights. To learn more, visit our How to Report Claims of Intellectual Property Infringement page.

4.     If we remove your content for infringing someone else’s copyright, and you believe we removed it by mistake, we will provide you with an opportunity to appeal.

5.     If you repeatedly infringe other people’s intellectual property rights, we will disable your account when appropriate.

6.     You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Wall and 32665), or any confusingly similar marks, without our written permission.

7.     If you collect information from users, you will: obtain their consent, make it clear you (and not Facebook) are the one collecting their information, and post a privacy policy explaining what information you collect and how you will use it.

8.     You will not post anyone’s identification documents or sensitive financial information on Facebook.

9.     You will not tag users or send email invitations to non-users without their consent.”

Twitter has a Code of Conduct too, but seems very loath to take action against Twitter abuse, believing in freedom of speech, and Twitterers’ rights to expression.  It does not disallow disparagement, a major weakness of its Code.  It also does not demand honesty in Twittering, which means that anyone can say anything about anyone else on Twitter, without it necessarily being truthful.  It abdicates its legal liability in any dispute between Twitterers, yet does call for local country laws to be respected: 

·         Impersonation: You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others

·         Trademark: We reserve the right to reclaim user names on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those user names. Accounts using business names and/or logos to mislead others will be permanently suspended.

·         Privacy: You may not publish or post other people’s private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, street address or Social Security/National Identity numbers, without their express authorization and permission.

·         Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.

·         Copyright: We will respond to clear and complete notices of alleged copyright infringement. Our copyright procedures are set forth in the Terms of Service.

·         Unlawful Use: You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or for promotion of illegal activities. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.

·         Verified accounts: You may not use the Verified Account badge unless it is provided by Twitter. Accounts using the badge as part of profile pictures, background images, or in a way that falsely implies verification will be suspended” 

      The abusive campaign has created food for thought for many Bloggers and Twitterers, many wondering how they would react if they were targeted by such a 140-character onslaught on a daily basis.   There are no clear rules.  There also is no precedent in South African law as to any Blog post, Tweet or Facebook entry having been the cause of a defamation claim to date. In the USA, a young Twitter user last year sent a disparaging comment about an apartment rental agency to her 20 followers, and she was sued for $50 000 by the agency.

We welcome your point of view on Freedom of Speech in Social Media Marketing.

POSTSCRIPT 27/10:   The abusive campaign recommenced this morning, the first Tweet denying David Cope’s involvement, a little too obvious!   Another Tweet refers to a lunch I have booked at Tokara this weekend, a violation of my privacy relative to the restaurant, meaning that this information has been leaked by a staff member of the restaurant.

POSTSCRIPT 12/11:   We have established that food blogger Clare Mc Keon/McLoughlin from Spill Blog is passing on information to David Cope for the abusive Twitter campaign.

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

On 23 September Eat Out will announce its Top 10 Restaurant Awards list of twenty finalists.   Ten of these will be chosen by three judges (Abigail Donnelly, Peter Goffe-Wood and Arnold Tanzer), and announced at the Eat Out 2010 Restaurant Awards gala dinner at the Westin Grand Hotel on 28 November.

To live up to my reputation in having been nominated for the SA Blog Awards in the “Most Controversial Blog” category, I have done a prediction of some of the Top 20 Restaurants we might expect on the list, as well as those that will fall off the list, in my opinion.  I have also predicted which restaurants will make it onto the list for the Eat Out Restaurant Awards 2011.  It is important to note that Eat Out specifies that a chef must have been with a restaurant for a year, to be selected for consideration for this prestigious award, the “Oscar” of the Restaurant industry.

Top 20 list

1.  Rust & Vrede (chef David Higgs) in Stellenbosch: I predict that Rust & Vrede will make the number one slot of the Top 10 list, given that Luke Dale-Roberts is no longer at La Colombe full-time.   David’s food is consistently good, creative, and the restaurant made it in the top 100 on the Top 50 Restaurants in the World list earlier this year.  David Higgs is one of four chefs preparing the meal for the Restaurant Awards’ dinner, and this is a sure-fire predictor of being on the Top 10 list

2. Overture (chef Bertus Basson) in Stellenbosch: Consistently good, and always re-inventing his restaurant, Bertus deserves better than joint 10th, which happened in 2009.  Definitely a Top 10 contender

3.   Mosaic Restaurant in Pretoria (chef Chantel Dartnall):  Chantel is also a chef at the Restaurant Awards dinner, so an automatic Top 10 contender

4.   The Roundhouse in Camps Bay (Chef PJ Vadal) : not everyone’s favourite due to the arrogance of the management, but the fact that the chef is cooking at the Awards dinner is a sure predictor of Top 10

5.   Restaurant Christophe, Stellenbosch (chef Christophe Dehosse):  no glitz or glamour in terms of its interior, yet the Spookhuis is steeped in history.  Christophe is charmingly French, and is a hands-on chef both in the kitchen and inside the restaurant.   His food is excellent.

6.  The Greenhouse at the Cellars,  Cellars Hohenhort Hotel, Constantia (chef Peter Tempelhoff) : Peter is a favourite on the Top Restaurant list, and has been on the Top 10 list twice, at the current restaurant, and at Grande Provence before that

7.   Jardine’s on Bree Street, Cape Town (chef Eric Bulpitt):  Eric is cooking at the Awards’ dinner, so an automatic Top 10 candidate.  He is also about to return from Copenhagen, where he spent 6 weeks in the kitchen at Noma, to gain inspiration. Noma is the top restaurant of the Top 50 restaurants in the world.

8.   Jordan’s Restaurant with George Jardine, Stellenbosch (chef George Jardine) – last year’s move to his new restaurant at Jordan Winery no doubt cost George Jardine a place on the Top 10 list, a shock, as he had been number 2 on the list the year before.   He had announced the move to Stellenbosch for personal reasons, and the judges had clearly taken this into account.  George Jardine has been on the Top 10 list for a number of years, whilst at Jardine’s.  George Jardine’s food preparation is excellent, but as at Jardine’s, the restaurant interior leaves a lot to be desired.

9.   Bizerca Bistro, Cape Town (chef Laurent Deslandes):  Bizerca seems to be every chef’s favourite restaurant, when they are not cooking in their own kitchen.   Last year the industry laughed when the restaurant received a ’consolation prize’ Best Bistro Award, a category not announced previously, and having no competition in it (9th Avenue Bistro in Durban was also on the Top 20 list, and made Top 10)

10.  Terroir, Stellenbosch (Michael Broughton):  Terroir has won numerous Top 10 awards, and seems to be a favourite of the judges.

11.   The Tasting Room, Franschhoek (chef Margot Janse):  the restaurant seems to have a love/hate relationship with Eat Out, in that it was left off the Top 10 list for three years, from 2004 – 2007, and that it had to endure the humiliation in sharing 10th place with Overture on the Top 10 restaurant list last year (a first for Eat Out in having a joint winner), indicating that the judges did not want to offend any of the two restaurants, but it became an insult to both restaurants instead.  This created a Top 12 Restaurant list in reality, and the judges will be sure to not lose face to make compromise selections again this year!  The interesting contrast is that the restaurant has featured in the Top 50 Restaurants in the World list, but for the first time another South African restaurant overtook it, La Colombe making it to an unbelievable 8th place on the international list.

12.   Grande Provence, Franschhoek (chef Darren Roberts):  Chef Darren is a highly talented chef, and has been around the block for 20 years in South Africa alone, but has been sadly neglected by Grande Provence’s Marketing department.  He has just returned from a week cooking at the Grill Room at the Hong Kong Country Club, one of the most exclusive eateries in the city, sharing his menu and the wines of Grande Provence.  (POSTSCRIPT 21/9:  Chef Darren says that his restaurant is not eligible for the 2010 Awards, as he only started in January, therefore not giving him a full 12 months at the restaurant, a requirement for the Awards).

13.    A Durban restaurant – to not be seen to show Cape Town and the Cape as the center of the cuisine universe, a restaurant from this city is normally selected by Eat Out.  The choice of 9th Avenue Bistro has raised eyebrows for its inclusion in the Top 10 list in the past, especially for its location in a parking lot.  The owner/chef appears to have left in the past year.

14.   To be politically correct, a Johannesburg restaurant also needs to be on the Top 10 list.  Roots at the Cradle of Humankind has been a winner for a number of years.

Other potential Top 20 short-listed restaurants could include The Restaurant at Waterkloof in Somerset West, Bistro 1682 at Steenberg, Delaire restaurant at Delaire Graff, 95 Keerom Street (see why for Carne below) and Bosman’s at Grande Roche (once the top restaurant in the country, but it has been left off the shortlist for so many years now).

Restaurants not making Top 10

1.   Reuben’s in Franschhoek - winning Top Chef and Top Restaurant in 2004, Reuben’s has not made it back on the Top 10 list since 2006.  Too many service-related complaints have dogged the restaurant, and Reuben will have to make sure he does not stretch himself too thin when he takes on his biggest challenge yet at the One&Only Cape Town from October.

2.   Carne was on the Top 20 list last year, and fortunately for Eat Out they did not select it to the Top 10 list, given our disclosure of the restaurant’s dishonest claim that all its meat is from its Karoo farm and is organic.  Carne has since removed this claim from its website.  However, owner Giorgio Nava is a most charming and determined man, and has a close relationship with Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, who refused to respond to our allegations about Carne’s claim, even when it was proven to be correct!  I therefore predict that 95 Keerom Street will receive a ‘consolation’ Top 20 nomination in its place.

3.   Cape Colony at the Mount Nelson Hotel -  Chef Rudi Liebenberg made the Top 20 list two years running, whilst at The Saxon in 2008, and the Mount Nelson in 2009.  It is unlikely that the restaurant can make the Top 10 list, given that it is undergoing a major renovation as well as a re-invention of its menu currently, and will only open again in November.

4.   Salt restaurant - coming to the restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay, from Grande Provence, for which he received a Top 10 listing, chef Jacques de Jager’s presence is so low key at Salt that I regularly phone to check if he is still there.  His wonderful cuisine hand one knows from Grande Provence does not seem to have made the journey to Cape Town yet, in that his menu and the food quality is disappointing!

5.  La Colombe - given that ex-chef Luke-Dale Roberts has moved to a consulting role at La Colombe, it is unlikely that the restaurant should make the Top 10 list.  This is re-inforced by Luke’s announcemnet (on 20/9) that he is to open his own restaurant The Test Kitchen at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock in November.

Bubbling under for Eat Out Top 20 in 2011

Given the new restaurant openings in the past few months, a number of exciting contenders are on the potential Top 20 list for 2011, as they will have operated for a year by then:

1.  Pierneef à La Motte at La Motte in Franschhoek – wow, wow, wow, and that was only after having been open for 2 days!   Top 10 for 2011 for sure.

2.   Indochine at Delaire Graff- I thought that the original Delaire restaurant would make Top 20 this year when I first visited it a year ago.  But it has lost many staff members, including a talented sommelier and Maitre’d, and service and food reports are not as positive as when it opened.  The new sister restaurant Indochine has great potential, and could make the Top 20 list in a year.

3.   Richard Carstens opens at Tokara Restaurant next month, and has been an Eat Out Top 10 chef six times.   Hopefully he has staying power to last a year at the restaurant.

4.  The Bombay Brasserie at The Taj hotel.

5.   Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town - this is a ‘grown-up’ and sophisticated Reuben’s, yet has some of Reuben’s favourite dishes, such as calf’s liver.

6.   The Test Kitchen at the Old Biscuit Mill, Woodstock – given that Luke Dale-Roberts has been named the world’s 12th best chef in the world in 2010, this is a no-brainer for his new restaurant, set to open in November!

7.  Grande Provence does not qualify for the 2010 Awards, as Chef Darren Roberts has not been at the wine estate for a full 12 months.  He would be a natural candidate for the 2011 Top 20 shortlist.

We would love to have your nominations and predictions before 23 September, as well as comments about ours – please e-mail me at info@whalecottage.com

POSTSCRIPT 15/4: It has been announced that David Higgs has resigned and will leave Rust en Vrede in mid-June.

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

Yesterday was a day of reckoning for the bloggers of South Africa, who had been judged by a committee of three, and voted for by their fans, in making the short-list of ten finalists in 25 categories of the S A Blog Awards.  We are delighted to have been selected as a Finalist in the Most Controversial Blog category, and thank our loyal blog readers, friends, commenters, and Twitter followers for their votes in making the Finalist selection possible.

Now we are like Idols contestants, in that we please request your vote for our Blog, to win in the category (there is no prize, other than a badge that goes onto the blog). The Most Controversial Blog category is quite far down the list, and you need to please click on our blog name to vote, and then to scroll down to the bottom of the list, to enter your e-mail address.  You are allowed to vote for us every 24 hours, per e-mail address, until the competition closes on 17 September.

The Whale Cottage Blog had been nominated in a number of categories, including Best Food & Wine Blog, Best Blog Post, Most Controversial Blog and Best Travel Blog.  Being a unique blog that does not fit fully into any specific category (e.g. Food, Travel), we were delighted to have made the finals (somehow we never got to enter last year).  The Most Controversial Blog category is a new one introduced this year, and it seemed to suit us ideally!   If we have created a unique identity for our blog, it has been to be ”independent * incisive * informative”, and it is described as being controversial, due to our lack of fear to write the truth, no matter the consequences.

We are in excellent company in this category, with 2Oceansvibe being a fellow finalist – last year its editor ‘Seth Rotherham’ won almost every category in the Blog Awards, and his blog became the benchmark for many of us (this year a blog can only be nominated in two categories).   The rest of the Finalists’ list is a little more dubious, sex and swearing broadly summarising the content of the other blogs in the Most Controversial Blog category.

The WhaleTales newsletter has been distributed for the past nine years, and has been the foundation of our writing about controversial issues.   It has not always been easy to be outspoken, in that we have experienced the following:

*  being told to not come back to the Opal Lounge, due to an unfavourable review that we wrote (in fact the instruction to not return was issued telephonically by the co-owner before the review was written and published)

*  being escorted out of Beluga by the police during a invited lunch for members of an association of guest house owners in Camps Bay, of which I am the chairman, because sister restaurant Sevruga received a Sour Service Award on this blog for a Cape Times book launch lunch, which the restaurant handled poorly, both food and service-wise

*   being threatened with legal action when we tackled Carne about falsely claiming that all its beef, lamb and game served comes from its Karoo farm and is organic, our most controversial blog post in the two year history of blog-writing.  This blog post was nominated for Best Blog Post.  The Carne blog post, and its follow up, took investigative journalism of the bravest kind, in obtaining documentation from the suppliers of the meat, and in obtaining (by luck) a telephonic admission by a supplier of meat to Carne, resulting in Carne withdrawing its legal threat, declaring the matter closed, and taking the dishonest claim off their website.

*   being on the receiving end of FEDHASA Cape’s attempt to cancel our membership, which resulted in my resignation as a Director of the hotel old-boys’ club, when I wrote about the dangers of small accommodation establishments signing with FIFA’s MATCH for the World Cup, over the past five years.  My views about MATCH were not in line with the hotel interests which dominated the FEDHASA Cape Board, and Nils Heckscher, GM of the Winchester Mansions, tried his best to get me off the Board.  Ultimately, we were vindicated in our advice when MATCH cancelled the bulk of its booked small and hotel accommodation throughout South Africa, the Winchester Mansions being one of the hotels badly hit by the cancellation of booked rooms by MATCH.  

*   being threatened with legal action by the Cape Whale Coast DMO, after our blog post of 28 December 2009 raised questions about the conflict of interest created by Clinton Lerm being the Chairman of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau and of the DMO.   Nothing has come of this threat to date.  Yesterday we published a follow-up story on the DMO’s lack of transparency.

*  writing critical restaurant reviews, without “white-washing” them

*   awarding Sweet and Sour Service Awards on the blog every Friday.

We would also like to recommend the following blogging friends and colleagues, for your vote:

*  Food & Wine Blog category: Cooksister (Jeanne Horak-Druiff), My-Easy-Cooking (Nina Timm), JamieWho? (Andy Fenner) and The Foodie (David Cope) (all of last year’s finalists have dropped out of this category, other than Cooksister and My-Easy-Cooking)

*   Best Travel Blog category:   SA Venues and Cape Town Travel (Cape Town Tourism)

*   Best Twitter Microblogger category: Relax-with-Dax, Gus Silber, and Spit or Swallow

We thank you for your support and your votes.

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