Court orders Daily Sun to pay R80 000 for defamation

2015-10-03 07:28
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Pretoria - The Daily Sun was ordered on Friday to pay R80 000 in compensation to a Pretoria market agent for defaming him in an article five years ago.

Pretoria High Court Acting Judge Bantubonke Tokota ordered the newspaper and journalist Aletta Moobi to compensate Bekker du Plessis for tarnishing his reputation in an October 2010 article headlined "Frozen - For an Onion". They also had to pay Du Plessis's legal costs.

Du Plessis, a market agent at the Tshwane Fresh Produce Market, claimed the Daily Sun's article about a man locked in a cold storage room for stealing an onion contained lies, was defamatory, and intended to convey that he was a "cruel racist bigot".

Orel Khoza, who worked at the market, was apprehended for allegedly stealing an onion, escorted to a cold storage room and kept there for 45 minutes until police arrived. Khoza's friend phoned the newspaper.

Tokota found Moobi was "prone to exaggeration". She had stated that Khoza was kept in a cold storage room for two hours, was still shivering when she arrived, that his teeth were chattering, his hair was frozen, and his hands bound with a plastic strip.

Khoza attended court proceedings, but was never called as a witness.

In her evidence, Moobi conceded Khoza was bald. She told the court she had contacted Du Plessis and asked him for video footage of the incident. She said he was uncooperative and threatened to sue the newspaper.

Tokota rejected the newspaper's defence that the article was substantially true, in the public interest, and not intended to tarnish Du Plessis's reputation.

"Once a serious allegation is made against you, even if you are subsequently cleared by a court of law, members of the public often stick to the original allegation and ignore the fact that you have been found not guilty. The stigma of a lie may therefore be indelible," he said.

The newspaper and journalist published a "substantially false" article intended to imply that Du Plessis had no regard for others. This was defamatory.

Tokota however ruled that the article had not caused substantial damage to Du Plessis in his community, who did not as a general rule read the Daily Sun.

He said that detaining a person in the cold storage room was reprehensible. Du Plessis's excuse that he could not detain Khoza elsewhere because his office "was occupied by ladies" was not a satisfactory explanation for his actions.

Andrew Boerner of Jurgens Bekker Attorneys, which represents the Daily Sun, said they are studying the judgment.

“We will evaluate it and from there consider our next step,” he said.
Read more on:    daily sun  |  pretoria  |  crime  |  media

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