D-day for Zuma to press libel suits

2013-05-23 00:00

THE 14 claims instituted by President Jacob Zuma against the media since 2006 could end up costing him rather than providing a windfall of up to R60 million.

The suits all claim Zuma was libelled and his reputation impugned.

Today is D-day for Zuma to provide legal papers in six of the cases to Dario Milo of the law firm Webber Wentzel.

Among the suits are two claims of R5 million each against political cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (aka Zapiro) over cartoons published in the Star.

Milo, who acts for Independent Newspapers, Avusa (formerly Johnnic Holdings) and the Citizen, had by time of going to press yesterday not had any word from Zuma’s legal team.

“If the deadline lapses today, we will apply for an order compelling Zuma to reveal the documents.

“If he misses the deadline again, we will apply for the cases to be dropped,” said Milo.

Media24 successfully concluded the same process earlier this year when claims against Rapport and Sunday Sun were dropped after Zuma was ordered to bear the legal costs. Willem de Klerk, for Media24, said these could amount to R300 000.

Of the 14 cases, only one has been decided in favour of Zuma. Media24 paid out R50 000 over the publication of a reader’s letter in Rapport.

Zuma’s legal adviser, Michael Hulley, declined to comment yesterday, saying the Presidency would make an announcement about the issue next week.

Media lawyers have cast doubts on the seriousness of the suits and say they seem intended to intimidate the media rather than come to court.

Milo agreed, saying the regularity with which suits were filed between 2006 and 2010, and Zuma’s neglect in following through, showed he was never serious about them.

Last October, Zuma dropped a case against Shapiro and the Sunday Times.

At the time, his spokesperson Mac Maharaj said this was because he did not want to restrict media freedom. But Milo said that if this were indeed the reason, the president would have dropped the other cases.

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