Independent Media ordered to remove defamatory articles, pay R300 000 in damages


The Johannesburg High Court has ruled that Independent Media must remove two defamatory articles about a liquidator within 48 hours and pay damages of R300 000.

The matter concerns Icon Insolvency Practitioners and its owner Johan Francois Engelbrecht, who lodged the application with the court following the publication of two articles about the company in April this year.

The first was published in the Business Report on April 8, 2019, titled Net closes on group of 'rogue' liquidators. The second was published on April 16, 2019 with the headline Pamodzi returns to haunt Master's Office.

The Independent Media group falls under investment holding company Sekunjalo, and publishes titles including the Cape Times and the Star. 

'Character assassination'

Commenting on the outcomes of the case, Engelbrecht told Fin24 on Wednesday that he is satisfied with the court's order.

''The articles published about me have had an extremely adverse effect on both myself and my business given the fact that unfounded allegations have been made about me.

"I consider the efforts of the defendants to the case to be a clear attempt at character assassination of me and my practice," he told Fin24 via an emailed response to questions.

"I am hopeful that this judgment will discourage certain individuals and media outlets from this kind of intimidatory conduct," he added.

Engelbrecht said he had not received apologies from Inpdependent Media, nor from reporter Luyolo Mkentane. The reporter is the second defendant in the matter, but the application is against Independent Media, as the plaintiffs failed to secure the delivery of the summons to Mkentane, the judgment read.

"Should they not remove the defamatory material in terms of the order of the High Court, my attorneys hold instructions to apply for an order that the defendants be held in contempt of the Court order," said Engelbrecht.

The ruling was delivered by Judge Twala on Monday December 3. This means the media group has until December 5 to remove the articles.

At the time of publication, Independent Media had not yet responded to Fin24's request for comment on the matter. Should comment be received, the article will be updated.

Independent had not filed notice to defend the action when summons were first served on August 27, 2019, according to the judgment.

Engelbrecht and Icon had sought a damages claim of R5m, but Twala settled on the amount of R300 000 plus interest of 10.5% per year until payment is made.  

The articles that the court found to be defamatory concerned the long-running liquidation of Pamodzi gold mines. According to the judgment, the articles alleged that Engelbrecht and his business are "corrupt, fraudulent and intimidate its opponents". Independent Media failed to retract the articles, following numerous requests by the liquidator.

"In this case the plaintiffs have established and are entitled to protect their good name and dignity they alleged has been infringed," the judgment read. "The infringement of their reputation and good name by the publication has caused them and continues to cause them harm both in its personal and professional capacity through the wide spread dissemination of the impugned statements.

"The plaintiffs have no alternative remedy to the continuing injury since the defendants have failed to remove the defamatory statements from the internet sites nor published retraction of the said publications," Twala said.

"The statements damage the integrity, dignity and good name of the plaintiffs. The statements were egregious, in bad taste and malicious. I find these statements to be wrongful and unlawful," he added.

Twala said that the statements are still on the site and continue to "hurt" the plaintiffs both in a personal and professional capacity.

Sekunjalo Independent Media, a special purpose holding company set up in 2013 to buy out Independent Media SA from its Irish owners, owns 55% of Independent Media.

SIM is facing its own liquidation-related battle, after the Public Investment Corporation in November submitted an application with the Western Cape High Court to liquidate it, arguing that the group failed to honour its loan repayment obligations. SIM has denied it owes the PIC any anything, saying the application is "frivolous". 

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