Call for Manto to 'cleanse' her name
The onus is now on Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to “cleanse” her name and counter allegations levelled against her by the Sunday Times, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-SA) said on Friday.
“Misa-SA believes that it is within the minister’s moral obligation to publicly nullify the allegations and set the record straight,” said spokesperson Dumisani Nyalunga.
Thursday’s high court ruling—in which the newspaper was ordered to return Tshabalala-Msimang’s medical records—did not prevent the minister from responding to allegations about “unbecoming behaviour at the hospital and alcohol problems”.
“As a public representative, the minister should see it fit to tell the public exactly what had transpired in 2005.”
The organisation said it had always had the view that the court must decide if the Sunday Times had violated the National Health Act or other regulations by having Tshabalala-Msimang’s medical records.
The right of the minister to pursue a legal route to get the records returned was respected, Nyalunga said.
The court was applauded for “respecting and subscribing to the principle of non-censorship” with no order against future comments by the Sunday Times.
“Misa-SA is pleased to note that press freedom was given due recognition by the court. We trust that other judges will follow suit when presiding over cases that have bearing on media freedom and freedom of expression.”
Judge Mahomed Jajbhay deserved praise for recognising that journalists’ personal notes were not part of the records.
Such notes were part of investigative journalism and had nothing to do with doctor-patient confidentiality, Nyalunga said.
The Johannesburg High Court ordered that Tshabalala-Msimang’s medical records obtained unlawfully from the Cape Town Medi-Clinic must be returned to the institution “forthwith”.
Jajbhay also ordered that all the minister’s medical records on journalists’ laptops and computers be deleted.
However, he said personal notes of Sunday Times journalists “are not affected by the court [order]”.
He also said there was no order against future comments being made by the Sunday Times, as that would amount to censorship.
‘Important victory for press freedom’
The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) on Friday hailed the judgement as an ethical victory.
“We are all delighted that the file has been returned. We regard this as a triumph of ethics over political expediency,” said HPCSA registrar advocate Boyce Mkhize.
Mkhize said the HPCSA believed the court ruling would send the message that breaking the doctor-patient confidentiality clause was a serious criminal offence.
He said the HPCSA hoped the information the Sunday Times obtained from the health minister’s medical records would not surface again.
Mkhize said that if it emerged that one of the council’s practitioners was behind the leak of the medical records to the Sunday Times, the HPCSA would take the necessary action.
The council called on members of the public to report practitioners who revealed patients’ medical conditions to other parties without their consent, said Mkhize.
Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya on Thursday hailed the court ruling in the newspaper’s case against Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang as “an important victory for press freedom”.
He said in a statement that the newspaper had already voluntarily handed over a copy of Tshabalala-Msimang’s medical files pertaining to her 2005 stay in Cape Town Medi-Clinic to the hospital.
“We respect the judge’s ruling that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s records be returned to the Cape Town Medi-Clinic,” he said.
“We had already voluntarily handed over a copy to Medi-Clinic.”
Makhanya also said the newspaper would continue with its investigations.
“The Sunday Times believes that this story is of utmost public interest and, like the rest of the South African media, we will continue with our investigations.
“In doing so we will adhere [to] the highest journalistic and ethical standards.”—Sapa