Journalists, commentator to sue Independent Media over 'defamatory' report

2016-11-24 18:05
Iqbal Surve (File: AFP)

Iqbal Surve (File: AFP)

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Cape Town - Independent Media is facing a R2m lawsuit following a report published in several of its titles in which a political commentator and several journalists were accused of collusion and sabotage.

Rhoda Kadalie, Terry Bell, Ed Herbst and Chris Whitfield, in their summons issued in the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday, said they had been defamed by being referred to as "propaganda journalists" of a "particular generation" who had conducted "spiteful attacks" against chairperson Iqbal Survé, and that they were running a campaign of "collusion, misinformation, defamation and sabotage" against Independent Media and its chairperson.

A summons was served on Independent on Thursday morning, Kara van de Pol of Bowmans – the firm representing the four - said in a statement. 

"We are confident that our clients have an exceptionally strong case as none of the potential defences to defamation have any application in this matter," she says.

The plaintiffs said they are claiming R500 000 in damages from the 13 defendants, including those who have been identified as members of the "Journalism Intern Investigative Unit", which ostensibly authored the report.

The article, "Exposé: The dirty tricks campaign against Independent", was published in August in the Cape Times, the Cape Argus, the Star, the Pretoria News, the Mercury and the Daily News.

"The article claimed that there was a conspiracy amongst various journalists who regularly "raised skeletons" concerning Survé, "as though there was a strict allocation of who writes what and when".

"According to the article, these journalists – the majority of whom were alleged to be white – were 'virulently anti a democratically-elected government'. Kadalie, on the other hand, was described as 'a joiner of the white boys club'."

'Perversion of the media’s power'

A complaint lodged with the Press Ombudsman by Gill Moodie, a journalist also mentioned in the article, was upheld in September.

"The Ombud – having found that the article was in breach of the sections of the Code of Ethics and Conduct that required the media to 'take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly', 'seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication' and 'exercise care and consideration in matters involving... reputation' – ordered Independent Media to publish an apology in a prescribed and approved form," the four said in the statement.

Moodie, in her complaint, said she found the report to be a "disgrace to our profession and breaches the code so flagrantly that I find it difficult to believe it was authored by professional journalists". 

Independent has been granted leave to appeal the sanction.

Whitfield is a former editor of the Weekend Argus, Cape Times and Cape Argus.

He was the editor-in-chief of Independent Newspapers Cape until 2014.

Whitfield said he was a firm believer in free speech, but that the article "amounted to a perversion of the media’s power and cannot go uncontested. I believe it is important to draw a line against such abuse".

'Unseemly racial vulgarity and ethnic stereotyping'

Bell, a former columnist for Business Report, said that, besides being defamatory, the piece brought journalism into disrepute.

"And it is only through the courts that we may not only gain some redress but may also discover how such a travesty came to be produced and published. This would hopefully ensure that such an apparent abuse of the media will not happen again."

Kadalie said the article attacked the integrity of editors and columnists "to a degree which is unprecedented in my experience".

"In describing me as a member of the 'white boys club' it descends to a level of unseemly racial vulgarity and ethnic stereotyping which should have no place in South African journalism. This unethical abuse of media influence cannot be in the public interest."

News24 tried to get comment from Independent Media but had received no response by the time of publication.

Read more on:    independent media  |  iqbal surve  |  defamation  |  media

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