Lawyer: Zuma recognised that he must be criticised

2013-05-31 22:08

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Johannesburg - A media lawyer said on Friday that President Jacob Zuma's move to withdraw all outstanding defamation cases he had against the media shows that he recognises that as head of state, he must be the subject of legitimate criticism.

Media lawyer Dario Milo, from Webber Wentzel, who managed defences on about half the cases, welcomed the decision.

"I think that the sheer magnitude of the claims by the president sent out a signal that was detrimental in terms of freedom of expression.

"The decision to withdraw has to be welcomed, because it does mean that Zuma recognises that as head of state, he must be the subject of legitimate criticism."

Earlier, presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj said that in consultation with his legal team, the president had elected to withdraw his claims against the various entities and in so doing bring these matters to a close, mindful as he is that much of the litigation commenced before the president assumed office.

The material, from 2006 to 2010, prompted Zuma to institute legal action against various media groups and individuals associated with them.

Now he felt "that measured as against the broader national interest and challenges which the country is faced with, his personal sentiments, however aggrieved he may feel, must give way".

Maharaj said Zuma considered the cartoons and articles defamatory or calculated to "bring his good name, and in some instances the office of the president, into disrepute".

In some instances they sought to cast black men in a particularly negative light with "bigoted and racist overtones and innuendo".

Joke

Maharaj said the decision was "informed by the broader agenda of reconciliation and nation building".

The president also intended redressing prejudice and inequality through government-led programmes and forging better working relationships with like-minded interest groups.

Milo said he handled the "Lady Justice" cartoon case which Zuma brought against Jonathan "Zapiro" Shapiro. Zuma withdrew the case in October, before it got to court.

He handled two other Zapiro cases. One involved a cartoon depicting the "Moral Degeneration Movement", and another depicting Zuma about to give evidence in his rape trial.

Webber Wentzel also dealt with a joke in the Sunday World, a column by William Gumede in the Sunday Independent, a report in The Star ("ANC Gags Zuma"), and one in The Citizen.

In April, Beeld reported that Zuma's defamation case of R5m against Rapport was dismissed with costs. This was after he failed to respond to an interim court order.

Zuma's claim in that case was related to an article and photo published on 30 December 2007 in Rapport, under the heading "Piekniek by Dingaan [Picnic with Dingaan]".

The photo shows Zuma in the company of film maker Leon Schuster and singer Steve Hofmeyr.

Zuma is currently in Japan attending the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development.

- SAPA

Read more on:    dario milo  |  jacob zuma  |  media  |  politics
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