Johannesburg (AFP) – It’s the victory of David against Goliath: a South African investigative media outlet on Monday won a legal victory against a powerful conglomerate implicated in a series of articles and which attacked journalists by accusing them of having used stolen documents.
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AmaBhungane, a respected independent media outlet, funded by NGOs and crowdfunding, has exposed conflicts of interest between the Moti Group, of wealthy businessman Zunaid Moti, and the administration of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in order to to promote the mining interests of the former.
This information was based on documents given to journalists by a knowledgeable source.
In an emergency procedure “ex parte”, which means in the absence of the other party, the Moti group had obtained from a judge at the beginning of June that he pronounce the freezing of all publication on the Moti file and the obligation for amaBhungane to hand over incriminating documents.
Journalists challenged this decision. And during a hearing last week in Johannesburg, Judge Roland Sutherland wondered “how the hell” a colleague could have pronounced such a measure in these circumstances.
According to the Moti group, these illegally obtained documents could not be used by journalists. Furthermore, the personal information contained was not of public interest.
During the hearing, which lasted more than five hours, the whole issue was to distinguish between freedom of the press and protection of privacy.
In its decision handed down on Monday, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the Johannesburg court “annulled in its entirety” the previous decision targeting amaBhungane.
On the urgent and “ex parte” nature of the procedure, Judge Sutherland considered that it constituted “an abuse of process”.
On the obligation to hand over the incriminating documents, the judge considered that “no convincing argument has been put forward to oblige the defendants to disclose the files”.
“A journalist who has received information in confidence is justified in refusing to perform an act likely to unmask the source,” he recalled.
“We are delighted with this resounding victory for investigative journalism and the role amaBhungane has played in practicing journalism with integrity and in the public interest,” editor Sam Sole told AFP. chief of amaBhungane, which has 13 journalists.
The Moti group said it was considering appealing in a statement. “While I sincerely appreciate and support freedom of the press, I do not believe it can be exercised at the expense of the constitutional right to respect for the privacy of any person or entity,” said the group’s CEO. Dondo Mogajane, also a former South African finance minister.
The court ordered the Moti group to pay the legal costs.
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