Twitter war between EFF and Trevor Manuel heads to SCA

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel. File picture: Laurent Gillieron/EPA

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel. File picture: Laurent Gillieron/EPA

Published Oct 6, 2020


Johannesburg - The EFF versus former finance minister Trevor Manuel Twitter-defamation showdown, headed for the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), should pan out as a textbook case that discourages social media disinformation.

This is the view of the Joburg-based Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) organisation, which has been admitted as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case.

An unofficial media watchdog, MMA urged the SCA in its heads of argument to make a ruling that takes a position against disinformation on social media.

MMA said social media in South Africa carried benefits for freedom of expression and access to information, but “it also carries significant risks” in that it was a platform to spread disinformation “on an enormous and unprecedented scale and pace”.

“MMA therefore submits that in deciding this matter and in considering the defences concerned in a social media context, this court ought to do so in a manner that is likely to prevent, rather than encourage, disinformation,” said the organisation’s papers signed by its counsel, Steven Budlender SC.

The SCA Bench will next month hear the EFF’s application seeking leave to appeal against a high court judgment that found it to have defamed Manuel.

Judge Elias Matojane ordered the EFF to pay Manuel R500 000 for defaming him in a statement that was shared on the party’s official Twitter account.

The statement accused Manuel of nepotism and corruption, claiming he influenced the appointment of Edward Kieswetter as SA Revenue Service commissioner.

Manuel chaired the selection panel but recused himself during Kieswetter’s interview because he was finance minister while Kieswetter was the revenue collector’s deputy commissioner.

Judge Matojane found that the EFF failed to prove that its statement was true. “They published the tweet with reckless indifference as to whether it was true or false.”

The EFF wasted no time after Judge Matojane’s ruling to announce that the party would appeal.

Manuel dragged the EFF to court to argue defamation, and won. The former finance minister was opposing the party’s SCA application too.

The Bloemfontein-based SCA will hear “whether the (high) court was correct in finding that the statement was defamatory, false and unlawful”, it said in its bulletin.

The MMA said that while as an amicus it should not be drawn into the correctness of the high court’s findings, but “the statement published by the EFF certainly fits the definition of disinformation”.

The EFF cannot use the defence that it engaged in political speech, MMA said.

“Again then, any ‘political’ nature of the speech should not be a licence for disinformation It is often in the political context that disinformation is most dangerous. Disinformation may cause public harm, be a threat to democratic political and policy-making processes ”


The Star

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