Citizen newspaper wins its appeal in McBride defamation case

2011-04-08 12:55

The Constitutional Court in a majority judgment today upheld the Citizen newspaper’s appeal in a defamation case against former Ekurhuleni metro police chief Robert McBride.

McBride was also today convicted of drunken driving, the SABC reported. The Pretoria Magistrate’s Court also found him guilty on a charge of defeating the ends of justice.

In the Constitutional Court majority judgment, the court held that the Reconciliation Act did not make the fact that McBride committed murder untrue.

The court found that the act did not prohibit frank public discussion of his act as “murderer” and did not prevent his being described as a “criminal”.

The Constitutional Court said that protected comment need not be “fair or just at all” in any sense in which these terms were commonly understood.

Criticism was protected even if extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, so long as it expresses an honestly held opinion, without malice, on a matter of public interest on facts that were true.

The Citizen’s main appeal was upheld and the court dismissed McBride’s cross-appeal, but nevertheless found that the newspaper had defamed McBride by claiming falsely that he was not remorseful.

McBride was afforded R50 000 for this, reducing his damages awarded by the lower court from R150 000.

The matter relates to 2003 when The Citizen newspaper published a number of articles and editorials questioning McBride’s candidacy for the head of the Ekurhuleni metro police.

The articles said McBride was unsuitable because he was a “criminal” and a “murderer”.

The articles referred to the 1986 bombing of the Magoo’s Bar/Why Not Restaurant on the Durban beachfront. The explosion killed three young women and injured 69 other people.

McBride was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death but in 1997 he applied for amnesty under the Reconciliation Act, which was granted in April 2001.

The majority judgment also found that the newspaper’s reference to allege “dubious flirtation with alleged gun dealers” by McBride in Mozambique could not reasonably be interpreted to mean that McBride was involved in criminal activities.

However, a minority judgment held that the Citizen failed to make reference to the circumstances under which McBride was ultimately released from detention in Mozambique.

The newspaper’s statement on this was thus a half-truth and was therefore untrue, and McBride’s cross-appeal should have succeeded.

Another minority opinion was that the statements that McBride was a “criminal” and “murderer” were malicious and part of a well-orchestrated character assassination campaign waged by the Citizen against McBride.

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