The Sunday Times fights back

The Sunday Times’ lawyers have filed opposing papers in the Minister’s urgent application proceedings to block the paper from publishing anything (or even thinking obliquely) about her medical records and medical history. As the Sunday Times’ attorney, Eric van den Berg, explained it:

“We are filing papers to say why they’re not entitled to get an interdict as wide ranging as they have sought …”

One copy of the Minister’s medical records has been placed into a safe deposit which is being jointly controlled by both parties. The reason given for this is in case the paper is sued and it is a good idea. If the paper is sued it will probably include a claim for defamation and the reports will be important evidence in those proceedings. If the paper is sued for defamation it seems that at least one of the defences will be that the information was published in the public interest and this isn’t surprising given the nature of the matter and the clear interest the public has in possible abuses of power and misconduct by a cabinet minister.

Given the tight time frames, this matter is probably going to go to court early next week. The Sunday Times filed its answering affidavit yesterday and the Minister and the Medi-Clinic (the applicants) have until Thursday to file a replying affidavit. Usually the time periods are much longer and the paper would ordinarily have had about 3 weeks to file an answering affidavit and the applicants would have had about 2 weeks to file a reply. If you read the notice of motion in the initial application you will see that the applicants have asked for the usual rules regarding these time periods to be varied so one of the first things the judge will probably do is consider whether there was a basis for such an urgent application. If the judge feels there was no basis for urgency, it is possible that the application could be kicked for that reason alone.

Meanwhile Mondli Makhanya, the Sunday Times’ Editor, was interviewed about the paper’s decision to publish stories about the Minister’s antics and its handling of the story. The interview is in two parts:

Part 1:

Brought to you by: The Times Multimedia

Part 2:

Brought to you by: The Times Multimedia

There has been a tremendous amount of public interest in this story and bloggers have been particularly vocal on this issue. The Times itself has a list of a few bloggers who have written about this story, including this blog. Disclosure: I write for The Times in a weekly column and I have been interviewed by journalists working for The Times.

This story is significant for a number of reasons. For one thing it demonstrates the power of the press as a watchdog and introduces the influence social media can have when it comes to informing the public. It is also significant because it is a test of how committed President Mbeki is to the proper and ethical running of this country. This story highlights further instances of corruption of purpose in government. Our elected officials are ideally supposed to act in our interest and were this a more responsible government, we would see a more proactive approach to this matter by the President. Rather than remaining defiant, the President and the ANC should be united in their calls for this matter to be properly investigated and the Minister to be relieved of her duties if she acted improperly in anyway. From what the Sunday Times has reported, there certainly seems to be a basis to argue that Manto has done enough damage to her ministry and to the government to warrant her stepping down. Whether this happens remains to be seen and is doubtful at this stage.

(Sources: Justin Hartman and Gregor Rohrig)

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