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26 Jul 2007 19:48
The Citizen was in court this week, having to defend itself against Ekurhuleni metro police chief Robert McBride’s charge of defamation for portraying him as a criminal.
In a series of articles, the newspaper had referred to McBride as a bomber and a cold-blooded multiple murderer, the court heard.
This was in reference to the bombing of a bar off Durban’s beachfront in 1986, while McBride was a cadre in Umkhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the then-banned African National Congress.
Also, in 1998 McBride was arrested in Mozambique on suspicion of arms trafficking, but charges were withdrawn and he therefore has no criminal record, his lawyer argued.
The case concerns mainly editorial comment by acting editor Martin Williams, and opinion in a column by freelancer Andrew Kenny in September and October 2003.
The alleged intention of these articles was to discredit McBride and prevent him from being appointed to the post of police chief. Now McBride wants to be rewarded R3,6-million to clear his name.
Was the Citizen wrong in publishing these articles? Williams said that at the time he did not see any reason to pass the articles by the newspaper’s lawyers. Had he done so, they may have pointed to defamation laws that prevent such reports from hauling skeletons out of a person’s closet in order to discredit him or her—especially those skeletons laid to rest once and for all. Examples are amnesty granted by the TRC, or a completed prison sentence.
On the other hand, a fair comment piece or newspaper column may mention such events as a matter of fact, or in a balanced debate. So did the articles in question lower McBride in the minds of reasonable readers? That is the question the court will ask in determining whether defamation did indeed take place.
Whether McBride wins or not, what is clear is how carefully media organisations have to maintain the balance between fair comment and undue criticism. It’s not an easy task, but then, neither is defending oneself in court.
July 19 to 25
1. M&G gagged over SABC report
The Mail & Guardian has been gagged. Again. In the early hours of Friday morning in the Pretoria High Court, Judge Lettie Molopa interdicted the M&G from publishing the details of an explosive final draft of an internal report into alleged corruption, abuse of power and intimidation at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
2. How spy camera silenced archbishop
The pictures are as grainy and blurry as you might expect from a tiny camera hidden in the ceiling of what Zimbabwe’s government press is calling “the archbishop’s love nest”. But there is little doubt that the man perched on the edge of the bed is Pius Ncube, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo and furious opponent of Robert Mugabe.
3. Mbeki doccie: Red dress or black mini?
When did the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s ankle-length red dress turn into a black mini? That was the question posed by a representative of the public broadcaster at the Mail & Guardian‘s screening of the documentary Unauthorised: Thabo Mbeki in Johannesburg on Wednesday night.
4. The third way
Tokyo Sexwale’s star is on the rise. He has secured a foothold in at least four major provinces where senior party leaders have been lobbying for his election as ANC president.
5. Mugabe wants power to name successor
President Robert Mugabe opened Zimbabwe’s Parliament on Tuesday with plans to push through laws that will allow him to appoint his successor without an election, and force businesses to give a controlling stake to ruling party loyalists and others chosen by the government.
6. Zim: Nothing + nothing = nothing
The mad arithmetic of a country on the brink of collapse is illustrated in two figures making the news in Zimbabwe.
7. ANC: Mbeki ‘link’ to Hani death is hurtful
The African National Congress (ANC) has expressed disquiet at rumours reflected in a documentary on President Thabo Mbeki linking him to the 1993 assassination of South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani.
8. Judy Sexwale hijacked outside son’s school
Judy Sexwale, wife of former Gauteng premier and presidential hopeful Tokyo Sexwale, was hijacked while picking up their son from school on Wednesday, the Star newspaper reported.
9. In place of decency
This is going to sound like a story I’ve made up to make a point. But it’s the truth. Last week I accidentally went on Iranian cable telly. I thought it was just AN Other cable telly station, and arrived to review Carl Bernstein’s book about Hillary Clinton.
10. French newspaper reveals ending of Potter saga
A French newspaper broke the embargo on the new Harry Potter book on Friday by revealing the fate of the principle characters.
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