'An overwhelming win for media freedom' say media rights groups on Zuma ruling

The Campaign for Freedom of Expression, Media Monitoring Africa and the South Africa National Editors Forum were admitted as amici curiae - or court friends - in Karyn Maughan’s application.

From left Advocate Billy Downer, former statesman Jacob Zuma and journalist Karyn Maughan. Picture: Rejoice Ndlovu, Xanderleigh Dookey Makhaza/Eyewitness News and AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Media rights groups have hailed Wednesday’s ruling on former president Jacob Zuma’s private prosecution of journalist Karyn Maughan as “an overwhelming win for media freedom”.

The Pietermaritzburg High Court on Wednesday upheld an application from Maughan to review and set aside the summons Zuma served on her last September in which he accused her of breaching the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Act.

This in connection with what he’s maintained was the leaking of confidential medical information by the NPA to Maughan.
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Among the court’s findings was that the information in question was before the court as part of Zuma’s arms deal corruption case and was, as a result, public.

The court also upheld a similar application from State Advocate Billy Downer - the lead prosecutor on the arms deal case whom Zuma also instituted a private prosecution against.

The Campaign for Freedom of Expression, Media Monitoring Africa and the South Africa National Editors Forum were admitted as amici curiae - or court friends - in Maughan’s application.

In a joint statement, the three organisations welcomed the ruling describing it as “a win for media freedom and freedom of expression in South Africa”.

They said it’s “a victory for all of journalism, as it reinforces the right of reporters to be free to do their job of covering important court cases without hindrance or harassment”.

"Karyn Maughan was under attack for doing her job, she was covering a court case and that’s what she was being prosecuted for doing. I don't believe she did anything outside of what journalists do all the time. So an attack on her was an attack on her journalism and our capacity to cover big court cases like the Jacob Zuma case," said
Anton Harber, the executive director of the Campaign for Freedom of Expression.

Harber said the court came to the defence of journalism and that the ruling pointed to an important victory.