Cyber Security / Cyber Crime, Defamation / Reputation, Hate Speech, National Security, Political Expression
The Case of Ampon Tangnoppakul (Uncle SMS) (2011)
Closed Expands Expression
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The court denied the applicant’s attempt to interdict a newspaper’s publication of certain questions alleging certain financial improprieties because the applicant did not raise a valid defamation claim. The applicant had the opportunity to answer the questions, and in doing so deny the allegations, the newspaper had a reliable source backing up the allegations, and the applicant was a public figure and the aspects of his private life were in the public interest. As such, newspaper acted responsibly when it published the allegations, and, therefore, the allegations were not defamatory.
Prior to this action, the respondent, a newspaper called the City Press, had sent the applicant, Julius Malema, a series of questions that raised allegations of possible financial impropriety. Malema is a controversial public figure, formerly the President of African National Congress Youth League, and, following his expulsion from the African National Congress, the founder and leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters political party. Malema chose not to respond to the respondent’s question. Accordingly, the respondent decided to publish both the questions and allegations. In response, the applicant filed an action with the court to interdict the respondent from publishing the allegations because they would be defamatory to his character.
The standard used by the court in determining whether there was an unlawful defamation by the respondent was whether or not “upon a consideration of all the circumstances of the case, it is found to have been reasonable to publish the particular facts in the particular way and at the particular time.” In its determination, the court looked at three key facts in determining that the respondent’s publication of the allegations was reasonable.
First, the newspaper had a reliable source, as demonstrated by evidence provided to the court. This evidence corroborated the allegations made by the respondent. As such, the court found that respondent was reasonable in relying on the information in making the allegations against the applicant. Second, the respondent offered the applicant the opportunity to respond to the allegations prior to publication. The applicant refused. The court weighed this fact, in conjunction with existence of the respondent’s verifiable source, heavily in favor of the respondent. Because the applicant did not use the opportunity to set the record straight, the court found that it was reasonable for the newspaper to publish the allegations as they were reported by the available source. Finally, the court weighed applicant’s status as a public figure in favor of the respondent.
Given that Malema is a public figure, the court found that reports of financial impropriety were of great interest to the public at large. Therefore, it was timely for the newspaper to publish the allegations when it did. After weighing all these factors and finding in favor of the respondent, the court held that it was reasonable for the newspaper to publish the allegations, both in the way and at the time that it did. Accordingly, the court dismissed the applicant’s petition to interdict the publication.
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