Media can name suspects - court
Bloemfontein - The publication of the name of a person suspected of criminal action and not yet arrested could be to the benefit of the public, the Supreme Court of Appeal has found.
The court made the finding in its judgment on Wednesday, in the appeal of businessman Mogale Modiri against a high court order which dismissed his action for defamation against Media24, the late Daily Sun publisher Deon Du Plessis, a reporter and the police.
The appeal originated from a Daily Sun article headlined "Mangaung Crime Crackdown", which reported that the Mangaung police were on top of the crime situation in Bloemfontein.
It asked Daily Sun readers to help the police catch Modiri, who was accused of involvement in drug dealing, cash-in-transit heists and car theft.
The SCA held that the high court had rightly found that the gist of the article was objectively true.
Evidence indicated that, for 10 years before the article was published, police suspected Modiri of involvement in armed robberies, vehicle thefts and drugs, and of leading a syndicate involved in these crimes.
Offenders IDed Modiri
The court also heard that actual offenders had identified Modiri as one of their leaders, but were unwilling to testify against him in court. As a result, charges against him had had to be withdrawn.
A police investigator quoted in the article, denied inviting Daily Sun readers to help apprehend Modiri.
The SCA found that the allegations which had proved to be untrue in the article were not part of the sting of the article.
It said the media were not required to prove that defamatory statements were true in every detail.
The unanimous judgment by a full Bench also held that once the media had proved that the sting of the article was true, it did not matter where the journalist had obtained the information relied on.
The court found that the publication of the suspicion held by the police was to the benefit of the public.
Modiri could not insist on enjoying the reputation of an honest businessman who was beyond any suspicion.
The court held that the publication of the suspicions against Modiri could have served to persuade members of his community to come forward with potential evidence against him, and which the police eagerly sought.
The fact that the police did not actually ask the journalist to invite public assistance did not detract from this possibility.
The SCA partly upheld Modiri’s appeal with regard to costs.