/ 12 September 2008

The price of satire

Zuma has demanded a total of R63-million in damages from a collection of journalists, cartoonists and media organisations.

If ANC president Jacob Zuma sues cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro for his latest cartoon, it will bring the number of defamation cases Zuma has filed against media organisations to 14 since the beginning of his rape trial in 2006.

Zuma has demanded a total of R63-million in damages from a collection of journalists, cartoonists and media organisations.

He lodged three defamation claims — later dropped to two — against the Independent Group. Other cases are against Rapport, Sunday World and The Citizen. All were on the grounds of damage to his reputation.

These grounds of a damaged reputation were undermined when he was elected president of the ANC. His demands for total damages dropped from R63-million to R12-million.

Shapiro, aka Zapiro, is already facing law suits from Zuma over three cartoons. ”He has sued me for R5-million for each of those cartoons, which were all printed in the Independent Group newspapers, and ironically the most damaging of the three was dropped, which brought the lawsuit to R10-million.

”After the Polokwane conference he changed the grounds of his charges from damage to his reputation to injury to his dignity,” said Shapiro.

Three of the 13 cases have been settled out of court. Rapport published a reader’s letter containing defamatory statements about Zuma, for which he sued for R5-million. ”We made a R50 000 out-of-court settlement with him because we were advised that that we wouldn’t win the case if we had taken it to court,” said Rapport editor Tim du Plessis.

The other two were the R6-million claims against the Sunday Times and its then columnist David Bullard. These cases were dropped in May this year after Bullard apologised to Zuma for his columns, titled ”Stupidity a mitigating circumstance for Zuma” and ”Visit the Zuma website to see what was meant”.

This leaves Zuma with 10 defamation cases. Pamela Stein, an attorney with Webber Wentzel, who is acting for the defendants in some of the cases, said there has been little progress made in some of the cases. ”We are sitting with four cases which haven’t really gone far. For a person who claims that his dignity has been bruised, Mr Zuma is doing very little to prosecute the cases and I would assume he would do so, and do so diligently and vigorously.”

Webber Wentzel is dealing with two cases against the Independent Group and Zapiro, one against The Citizen and one against the Avusa Group, which owns the Sunday Times and Sunday World.

Zuma’s suit against Sunday World concerned a joke the newspaper ran in December 2005. The newspaper was issued with a summons in August 2006, but no court date was set.

”I think that Zuma files all these cases just to silence the press and makes a public statement,” said Stein.

Shapiro expressed similar sentiments. ”Everybody has a right to sue, but I think that public figures such as Zuma sue to try to intimidate the media and to have power over freedom of speech.”

Zuma appears intent on suing Shapiro for his lastest Sunday Times cartoon showing the ANC president about to rape a female figure representing the justice system. His spokesperson, Liesl Gottert, said his legal team is investigating whether there are grounds for another defamation suit. The editor of the Sunday Times, Mondli Makhanya, declined to comment, but said he had received no legal papers from Zuma.