Rights of customer, Cell C debated
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Johannesburg - A Cell C manager whose name and contact details were splashed on a banner put up by a disgruntled customer suffered abuse and was exposed to a barrage of explicit texts.
This has emerged as members of the public wasted no time in using contact details printed on the Cell C “the most useless service provider” banner to vent their own frustrations, or simply send explicit texts like “kiss my a**”.
And on Wednesday in the Joburg High Court, one man’s right to privacy were argued against another’s right to freedom of expression, as the mobile service provider took on George Prokas, the man behind the banner.
“He (Prokas) subjected Mr (Riaan) van Rooyen to the abuse… violated his rights to privacy and dignity. The public reacting to that banner had felt free to fill in their own facts, and this is visible from text messages and social media responses,” advocate Christopher Whitcutt SC argued.
He said Prokas should be interdicted as he had “published a defamatory statement”, a move strongly opposed by Prokas’s advocate, Shem Symon SC, who said Cell C’s action was “a proverbial storm in a tea cup” as Prokas was exercising his right to freedom of expression after Cell C wrongly billed him, and had him listed on ITC.
Prokas was told he was R5 000 in arrears, and when he contested this, as the number was being used by a person unknown to him, Cell C got him listed on ITC. Despite promises to have his name removed, Cell C had not done so after two weeks.
He had then exercised his freedom of expression, putting up a banner which highlighted his frustrations.
“He’s a consumer, he stands for freedom of speech. What they (Cell C) will do with this order is that they will prevent this freedom. This attempt to stifle free speech is an attempt to stifle criticism,” Symon said.
He dismissed arguments that Prokas had perpetuated abuse suffered by Van Rooyen, saying “we didn’t solicit other people to post comments”.
“What we have is a concerted consumer cry. If you put billboards all over the country purporting your virtue, then you shouldn’t have a problem with someone putting up a banner questioning that,” Symon added.
He said the line “Cell C’s Riaan van Rooyen, ‘franchise manager’, says his unnamed ‘executive head’ refused to assist the customer” was factual, in that Prokas had been ignored.
Judgment was expected on Thursday.