Sanef: Zuma's Zapiro lawsuit shocking

2010-12-14 22:45
Johannesburg - The SA National Editors' Forum said on Tuesday that it was "shocked" by President Jacob Zuma's decision to sue Avusa Media for R5m for Zapiro's Lady Justice rape cartoon.

Zuma started proceedings against Avusa, cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro and former Sunday Times editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya in a summons issued in the South Gauteng High Court on Friday.

The cartoon, depicting Zuma preparing to rape Lady Justice, was published on September 7 2008.

The president, who was acquitted of a rape charge in 2006, was shown loosening his trousers while ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe look on, saying: "Go for it, boss."

The president said the cartoon was degrading and left him feeling humiliated. He was demanding R4m from Avusa, Makhanya and Shapiro and a further R1m for damaging his reputation.

Claim 'excessively high'

Sanef's deputy chairperson Raymond Louw said: "Sanef believes that it is surprising that the president waited more than two years before instituting his complaint on the grounds that in one instance he had been humiliated and degraded by the cartoon and in another instance that his reputation had been damaged.

"The amount of the claim is also excessively high."

Louw said Sanef noted that the content of the cartoon had been debated by the Human Rights Commission which exonerated the paper and Zapiro, stating that the issues raised by the cartoon were in the public domain.

"In light of the above, Sanef is deeply concerned at the chilling effect inordinately large claims for damages on ground of defamation can have on the publication of cartoons which employ satire to comment on issues of public interest involving public personalities such as politicians and, in particular, government leaders.

"Sanef has also noted that President Zuma has brought a number of earlier defamation actions against newspapers and the cartoonist which appear not to have been taken further but which continue to have an intimidatory effect on publication.

"The latest action, too, especially as a result of the lengthy time taken to lodge it against the newspaper, will be seen as having an intimidatory effect on the Sunday Times and the media as a whole."

Sunday Times: Lawsuit unexpected

The Presidency did not want to comment to The Times and were not immediately available when Sapa tried to get comment on Tuesday morning.

Sunday Times attorney Eric van der Berg said the lawsuit was unexpected.

"We are surprised to receive this almost two years down the track. That is all we have to say at this stage."

Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley said it was "sad" that a political figure "can sue over a cartoon".

Shapiro told The Times that he "fully" stood behind his cartoon and the views expressed in it.

"I will not allow the president to intimidate me," he said.

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