Yesterday, a court in South Africa ruled in favour of broadcaster Karima Brown, determining that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) contravened parts of the electoral code after leader Julius Malema incited his Twitter followers to harass Brown. But Brown herself also didn’t come out smelling of roses, with the judgment also criticising Brown’s “strident and political” conduct towards the EFF.
The EFF welcomed the judgment and said it will comply.
Broadcaster Karima Brown took the EFF to court after party leader Julius Malema posted a tweet alleging that Brown was attempting to spy on the EFF, alongside a screengrab of a message that Brown had erroneously sent to the EFF’s media Whatsapp group which included her phone number.
Brown had mistakenly sent the EFF group a message meant for her journalist colleagues which instructed them to “keep [a] watching brief” on an EFF event: a common journalistic term which refers to monitoring an ongoing news story.
Malema knowingly or unwittingly misinterpreted her message to mean that Brown was engaging in covert surveillance of the party.
In the wake of Malema’s tweet, Brown was subjected to a torrent of abuse both on social media and in messages sent to her phone which included rape and death threats.
Arguing for the EFF, Vuyani Ngalwana SC had contended that Brown had a clear track record of unprofessional and biased conduct when it came to the EFF, including an earlier unsuccessful attempt to have the party de-registered before the elections.
But Brown’s lawyer, Geoff Budlender SC, had argued before the court that Malema’s conduct “constitutes a contravention of the electoral code as he took no reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the Electoral Act, to make sure that journalists are not facing any harassment, intimidation, threats by political parties”.
Instead, Malema had actively invited his Twitter followers to harass Brown through his tweet – and although Malema subsequently apologised to Brown during a media briefing, Budlender described the apology as “too little, too late”.
In her ruling, Judge Fiona Dippenaar wrote that from Brown’s public statements, “it is clear that she participated actively in very robust political debate and held very strong negative views regarding [the EFF]. There may well be merit in their criticism of her conduct, but it does not avail the respondents to simply attack her conduct in order to deflect attention from their own”.
The judge found that the EFF had violated the electoral code by failing to “instruct and take reasonable steps to ensure that their supporters do not harass, intimidate, threaten or abuse journalists and especially women”.
Not everything swung in Brown’s favour, however. The judge found that Brown’s “provocative stance” amounted to “a weighty mitigating factor in determining an appropriate sanction”.
The judge dismissed Brown’s request for a fine of R100,000 to be imposed on the EFF, and also dismissed Brown’s request for a public apology from the EFF, pointing out that it was not disputed that Malema had already publicly apologised to her.
“In my view, Ms Brown will be adequately vindicated by the order I propose to make and an apology would only serve to foster the animosity which already exists between the parties,” Judge Dippenaar wrote.
In complying with ysterday’s ruling, the EFF may be conscious of the need to conserve legal resources – because this is not the end of the EFF’s potential legal woes when it comes to the harassment of journalists.
Rulings like yesterday’s may reassure journalists that their rights are protected by the courts – but some would argue that in the sphere of public opinion, the EFF’s damage has already been done. Among the social media responses to the ruling was a new torrent of abusive tweets aimed at Brown. - Daily Maverick
New Era Reporter
2019-06-07 10:13:15 19 days ago