Cell C verdict 'far-reaching' for business

Johannesburg - Mobile network Cell C has criticised judgment handed down by Judge Sharise Weiner in the South Gauteng High Court regarding a controversial banner on a busy Johannesburg road.

Cell C brought an urgent application to remove a banner on a WorldWear Mall wall on Beyers Naude Drive that called the mobile operator “the most useless service provider in SA as experienced via Cell C Sandton City”.

The banner also revealed the cellphone number of Cell C employee Riaan van Rooyen.

Businessman George Prokas said he paid over R60 000 to put up the banner after a dispute with Cell C over his unpaid R5 754 phone bill, the court heard.

Prokas’ dispute stemmed from a phone, handed to Cell C, having allegedly attained a R5 754 bill despite it being repaired. Prokas said his account was handed over to a debt collection agency.

The court also heard how Prokas warned Cell C in October that he would go ahead with the banner unless Cell C settled the dispute.

Despite a string of emails, Prokas said the dispute was not resolved and he delivered on his threat when images of the banner started appearing on social media last week Friday. Cell C then implemented a bid for an urgent interdict to remove it.

But Judge Weiner on Thursday dismissed the urgent application as she said Cell C could have acted earlier on the threat. Judge Weiner also said Prokas delivered fair comment as his experience of Cell C’s service was negative. The case was dismissed with costs.

“The Judge did not address our primary reason for taking this matter to court, namely the protection of the personal information and privacy of our employee, Riaan van Rooyen,” Cell C said on Thursday night in an emailed statement responding to the judgment.

“As a result of the banner being erected, Riaan has been harassed and verbally abused.

“With the increased focus and awareness of the protection of personal information it is surprising that the publication of Riaan’s personal information was not addressed in the judgment. The undertaking made by Mr Prokas not to re-publish this personal information was only given to the court during argument yesterday, and as a result of the urgent application having been brought by Cell C,” said the mobile network.

‘Far-reaching consequences’

Cell C in its statement also said the judgment has “far-reaching consequences” for business in South Africa.

“From the large business to the corner shop, businesses now face the risk of having their reputations tarnished by an individual who can make defamatory statements, as long as this is expressed as an opinion of personal experience with only cursory and, in our view, selectively chosen factual foundations,” said Cell C.

“The judgment also suggests that businesses should urgently apply to court for an interdict as soon as somebody merely threatens them with the publication of unfounded defamatory statements. This is impractical,” added Cell C.

Cell C also said Prokas’ claim that he was billed for somebody else’s use of his phone are “incorrect”.

“The underlying fact is that Mr Prokas owes Cell C for services rendered and these will be pursued in a separate legal process. Despite Mr Prokas’ negative comments on his banner he continues to use our services,” said Cell C.

Appeal being ‘considered’

Cell C further said on Thursday night that it views the judgment as containing “fundamental errors”.

“Irrespective of the specific issues in this particular matter, these errors need to be rectified and so Cell C is considering appealing the decision,” said the mobile network.

Cell C further said that Prokas had “several alternative channels at his disposal and it is most unfortunate that he chose to deal with the matter in this way”.

* Follow @GarethvanZyl  on Twitter. For more tech news, follow Fin24tech @Fin24_Tech.

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