Pretoria - The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria has cleared Independent Media of any wrongdoing when it erroneously published a picture of prominent Atteridgeville resident and school principal, Samuel Moagi Mangena, with a story unrelated to him.
Mangena claimed damages he had alleged he suffered to his reputation when the picture of him was published alongside a story with the headline “Sorry about courting a schoolgirl”.
The picture that was supposed to accompany the story should have been that of ANC councillor John Conference Ntuli at the time.
The Tshwane ward 63 councillor, and not Mangena, was the one photographed kissing a minor girl who lived in the same area as him in Atteridgeville.
The teenage schoolgirl later admitted on Facebook to being in a relationship with the councillor.
Aggrieved by the error made by the Pretoria News at the time, Mangena instituted a damages claim against Independent Media for defamation.
Judge Neil Tuchten in May 2019 delivered a judgment in which he concluded that the newspaper group was liable to pay R120 000 in damages to Mangena, for “tarnishing his reputation”.
This was in spite of the fact that the Pretoria News immediately rectified the error and apologised to Mangena.
The newspaper group subsequently took the matter on appeal, which was heard by a full bench (three judges). They unanimously found in favour of the newspaper group and overturned the order of Judge Tuchten.
Judge CJ van der Westhuizen, who wrote the appeal judgment, said Judge Tuchten erred in finding Independent Media liable to Mangena.
The judge said when regard was had to Mangena’s evidence, it was clear that he had suffered no damages and that he should have never been awarded any amount.
In overturning Judge Tuchten’s findings, the court also slapped Mangena with the legal costs.
The court pointed out that the article published clearly referred to Ntuli and the contents of the article were correct.
Mangena conceded the publishing of his picture was in error and that as a respected member of his community, no one believed that he was related to the article. In fact, he conceded, some were amused when they noticed the error.
He also conceded that when the Pretoria News was alerted to the error it was rectified the next day, alongside an apology. The erroneous picture was also retracted on the same day as the publication of the article.
Judge Van der Westhuizen found several grounds on which Judge Tuchten erred in his initial judgment, which included that there was no evidence that people thought less of Mangena as a result of his picture being erroneously published.
“The evidence presented on behalf of the respondent (Mangena) pointed to the contrary,” Judge Van der Westhuizen said.
He added that there was, in fact, no evidence upon which the court could have made the finding that there was a lasting impression that the appellant (Independent Media) had done wrong, despite the retraction and apology published.
Judge van der Westhuizen said Judge Tuchten also erred in dismissing Independent Media’s defence of reasonable publication and lack of intent. He said the reasonable reader would have been clear that the article was about Ntuli and not Mangena.