South Africa
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Legal action by Zuma’s legal team against journalist ‘cowardly and appalling’ – Sanef

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has announced that it will be supporting News24 as they seek to defend any legal action that will be instituted against them by former president Jacob Zuma’s legal team.

Sanef said it is outraged to note that Karyn Maughan, the online news website’s specialist legal writer, has also been cited as a respondent in the latest court papers filed by Zuma’s legal representatives.

On Wednesday, Zuma was issued with a nolle prosequi certificate by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Kwazulu-Natal (KZN) against Billy Downer, the lead prosecutor in the corruption trial.

A nolle prosequi allows someone with interest to pursue private prosecution.

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Maughan previously wrote a story following a letter from Brigadier-General Mcebisi Mdutywa informing prison and prosecuting authorities about Zuma’s health status.

Sanef said Zuma’s legal team last year claimed Downer leaked this letter to Maughan, an inaccurate assertion.

“The letter from Mdutywa – and not Zuma’s health records – was part of the court documents and therefore a public document. Once papers are filed in court, they become public record, hence the move by Zuma’s legal team is unwarranted.“

“This latest move by Zuma’s legal team should be condemned, and viewed as intimidation not only towards Maughan, but other journalists as well,” Sanef said.

Sanef said it will continue to support journalists facing intimidation, in an age where women reporters are particularly targeted through intimidation and bullying.

“This move is not only cowardly but appalling as we continue to see some sectors of our society continuously targeting journalists and doing their best to stop them from doing their work.”  

Sanef said it has also taken note of another worrying legal matter where the State Security Agency (SSA) has taken journalist Thabo Makwakwa and his employers, the Daily News, to court over the reporter’s possession of a classified report allegedly compiled by US intelligence services detailing several individuals who pose a threat to SA’s security.

“SSA insists Makwakwa is unlawfully in possession of the report, which has not been declassified. Sanef believes there are several avenues for recourse the SSA could have explored in resolving this matter, rather than approaching the courts.”

Sanef said the continued efforts to privately prosecute journalists are worrying as they present an environment where media freedom is restricted, an anomaly in any constitutional democracy.

“South Africa cannot afford to allow a culture where individuals and institutions are quick to sue journalists.”

Sanef said it is getting legal advice on both matters.

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