Defamation is defined as the unlawful and intentional publication of a defamatory statement concerning a person, which has the effect of reducing or diminishing the person’s good name and character. This thought came to mind when I heard about a book released early November 2017 and authored by journalist Jacques Pauw’s on President Jacob Zuma, entitled The President’s Keepers.
Many South Africans are reeling from the explosive contents of the book, which alleges amongst other things that the President has failed to pay his taxes for a certain period, for some months when he took office as president, he was also registered as an employee of a private security company and received a salary of R1 million a month, orchestrated the removal of certain key and high ranking individuals who worked at SARS, in order to conceal his dodgy tax affairs, surrounded himself with people from the underworld who were involved in contraband cigarettes smuggling, whose sons were engaged in corrupt activities and so the list goes on.
There can be little doubt that the book seriously diminishes President Jacob Zuma’s reputation. How the President chooses to publically react to the book is yet to be seen. In the event President Zuma decides to sue Pauw for defamation, Zuma would need to prove and convince the court of the following 3 essential elements needed to prove defamation:
Firstly, that the statements are wrongful or unlawful,
...secondly that it was intentional, meaning it was done with the intention to injure Zuma’s reputation
...and lastly that there was publication of the defamatory statements.
The defence, which Pauw, the publishers and distributors of his book would rely on, is that of truth and in the public interest. According to our law, if a matter is true and in the public interest then it’s not defamation and any such attack on a person’s reputation would be regarded as being justified.
It’s important to know that even if something is true, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the right to publish it – there has to be the public interest component attached to it. The other defences to defamation are fair comment and privilege. Fair comment is not the same as truth and in the public interest as it is restricted to the right of a person to express an opinion. Privilege would exist in an environment such as Parliament or where there is a communication between an attorney and client.
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