Judge sets aside gag order against South African investigative journalism platform
A South African judge on 3 July 2023 set aside a gag order that was granted to the Moti Group against AmaBhungane, an investigative journalism outfit, at the beginning of June 2023.
AmaBhungane, together with the Zimbabwe Independent and The Sentry, published several stories on businessman Zunaid Moti and The Moti Group, where it was alleged that millions were paid to the Zimbabwean ruling elite.
The stories alleged that the payments were made at a time when The Moti Group sought to ingratiate itself with the ruling elite in Zimbabwe. The investigative articles, which spanned Zimbabwe and South Africa, also alleged some illicit financial flows in the alleged underhand dealings.
Following the publication of the articles, The Moti Group made an urgent chamber application on 1 June 2023 seeking to interdict AmaBhungane from further reporting on the matter and to return all source material to the company.
The hearing was held in camera, with AmaBhungane not given a chance to respond to The Moti Group’s application.
The “gag” order against AmaBhungane was described as a classic example of strategic litigation against public participation or SLAPP, which is a lawsuit intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics such as the media by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or reportage.
The Moti Group was also accused of threatening journalists in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
On 3 July, Judge Roland Sutherland of the Gauteng High Court set aside the gag order that was issued on 1 June 2023 and amended on 3 June 2023. The judge said he found aspects of The Moti Group’s prosecution of the case “a most egregious abuse of the process of the court”.
He said The Moti Group’s initial application should never have been granted.
With the ruling, AmaBhungane is free to continue publishing stories on The Moti Group and is not required to hand over source material, as the first judge had initially ruled.
The Moti Group controls African Chrome Fields in Zimbabwe and also has claims to lithium deposits.
MISA welcomes the judgement, as it shields investigative journalism, which is increasingly under attack worldwide. MISA stands in solidarity with the investigative journalists and calls upon the business community to aid rather than undermine investigative journalism as the media struggles to shine a light on the dark corners of our respective communities. MISA further pays tribute to the judiciary that continues to play its checks and balances role on the other estates of the state in Southern Africa during very difficult times. We continue to say, journalism is not a crime.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) was founded in 1992. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.
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Businessman Zunaid Moti and The Moti Group
South Africa , Zimbabwe