An attempt by Miss World Ltd to gag the Mail & Guardian was on Saturday defeated in the South Gauteng High Court.
The organisers of the Miss World pageant, which is due to take place in Johannesburg on Saturday night, had sought in an urgent interdict — filed late on Friday night — to force the newspaper to remove two stories from its website.
Counsel for Miss World Ltd argued that the stories would cause irreparable commercial damage to the organisation if a global audience was exposed to them on the day of the pageant.
Judge Rami Mathopo disagreed, repeatedly pointing out that stories concerning the links of Miss Indonesia to alleged cult, The Family International (aka the Children of God) had been in the public domain for some time.
Although argument did not dwell on the merits, he could find no problem, either, with the second story complained of, which dealt with the ballooning costs of the pageant incurred by the City of Johannesburg. On the basis that urgency could not be established, he struck the case from the roll, awarding costs to the Mail & Guardian, which was represented by Danny Berger SC.
Said M&G editor-in-chief Nic Dawes: ”I am delighted by the outcome, which is a further demonstration of the strength of our legal dispensation in matters of this kind. I am frustrated and disappointed, however, that we had to go to court at all. This was a blatant attempt by Miss World Ltd to intimidate us by threatening damages running into hundreds of millions of pounds sterling, and it was clear to me at the outset that they had no case whatsoever.
”I have offered the pageant organisers right of reply in our newspaper and on our website, which they have yet to take up. That offer stands. I hope that they will now appreciate that freedom of speech means more than the freedom to say you support children’s charities, world peace, and thin thighs.”