EFF-Manuel ruling: 'It's an important judgment in this post-truth era'

The Johannesburg High Court on Thursday ruled that comments made by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) about former finance Trevor Manuel were "defamatory and false".

Manuel took legal action against the party for suggesting that South African Revenue Services (Sars) commissioner Edward Kieswetter’s appointment was based on nepotism.

Read: EFF to appeal Manuel defamation ruling

The court ordered the party to apologise to Manuel within 24 hours and pay R500,000 in damages.

The EFF has said that it will appeal this judgment and Manuel has told EWN that he will donate the money he won from the suit to pensioners who lost their money in the VBS Mutual Bank collapse.

To dissect the judgment, Eusebius McKaiser speaks to social media law specialist Emma Sadleir.

Sadleir says it has been a principle in South African defamation law that even though we have robust protection of freedom of expression, that protection has never extended to falsehoods.

I think this is an important judgment of this post-truth era that we all live in, where there is so much fake news and people thinking that they can just post what they like on social networks. The law has never said that is ok. If you want to post what you like, then you must know what you are saying is both true and for the benefit of the public.

Emma Sadleir, Social media law specialist

She says the court found that the was no truth to the EFF's claims and if there was truth, the party would be entitled to post these statements.

Also read: Trevor Manuel threatens legal action against EFF for SARS commissioner claims

Strong opinions are protected in South African law, but that doesn't extend to where there is no truth.

Emma Sadleir, Social media law specialist

Sadlier adds that the reach of social media these days is far greater than the reach of a newspaper.

It is straightforward to sue someone for defamation. You only have to show three things, firstly that the defamatory act refers to you. Secondly, you have to show that it was published and the third thing is that the defamatory action affects your reputation.

Emma Sadleir, Social media law specialist

She says the court found that there was no truth substantial in the EFF's claims thus ruling in Manuel's favour.

Listen below to the full interview:


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