Court ruling against Modibe Modiba an expected outcome to a fake story with dangerous implications
In 2020, a student named Modibe Modiba tweeted a laughable pack of lies: that Daily Maverick had offered to pay him a secret stipend to write articles taking a certain position. The high court has now ruled that Modiba’s claims were ‘patently false and defamatory’. The whole thing has been a waste of time and money — but indicates the kind of fires media outlets must fight these days in addition to traditional threats.
Modibe Modiba, a student who got his 15 minutes of local Twitter fame by tweeting nonsensical claims about Daily Maverick, now owes this publication R100,000 plus costs.
That sucks for Modiba, who presumably does not have that kind of dough stuffed down his couch, since he has been tweeting that his lawyers have been representing him “pro bono”. Zero lawyers ever actually showed up for Modiba in the defamation case he just lost by declining to defend himself, so sometimes what you pay really is what you get.
This story is so head-throbbingly moronic that it is hard to stomach wasting another solitary second on it, so to save some time please feel free to consult this exhaustive recap of the sequence of events.
As briefly as possible, however: an unknown dude who had written a handful of unsolicited, unpaid opinion pieces for Daily Maverick turned against this publication after his columns increasingly got rejected for being – how to put this delicately? – rubbish.
He then took to Twitter in January 2020 to badmouth Daily Maverick in the manner of a spurned lover, which nobody sensible gave a toss about at the time because they had their hands full worrying about whether there was something a teensy bit alarming with regards to a new virus spreading in China.
Two months later, Modiba suddenly returned to the topic of Daily Maverick with some new, turbocharged lies. At this point, there was even less incentive for anyone sensible to give a toss about this crap, since early March 2020 was when the first coronavirus cases reached local shores.
But Modiba now had an alliance in play. The day after he tweeted the first set of lies, IOL — the online news outlet of Iqbal Survé’s Independent Media — published a whole article on the subject, in which Modiba added a second freshly baked batch of supersized falsehoods.
The article was published under the headline “Daily Maverick asked me to write and do negative tweets about Dr Iqbal Survé”, which is most noteworthy for its hilarious use of the verb “do”.
Modiba’s bonkers claims now included that Daily Maverick had on its payroll a fleet of drivers in Toyota Corollas, who would cruise around Johannesburg handing out R500 a pop to students willing to spy on the EFF and write mean things about the PIC Commission and Survé.
It was never explained why Daily Maverick, which has some of the finest investigative journalists in the country on its staff, would need to pay students to spy on anyone. Neither was it explained why Daily Maverick, which has some of the snarkiest journalists in the country on its staff, would need to pay students to write mean things about anyone.
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IOL ate it all up with relish, obviously, but it is now well established that IOL has a small, nothing-to-be-ashamed-of problem when it comes to separating fact from fiction.
I admit that I was personally especially intrigued by Modiba’s claim, because as someone who has worked for Daily Maverick for a decade, I have never caught a whiff of even a single Toyota Corolla makin’ it rain for staff writers. I wanted in!
So I phoned Modiba. He answered, but from the sounds of revelry in the background, he was out on the town living his best life. (Spending all those R500s, I thought enviously.) But we had a perfectly amiable exchange, and Modiba told me he would call me back later that evening. He never did, of course, despite a number of banter-y messages from me including the witty use of a skeleton GIF to indicate that I was ageing rapidly while awaiting his call.
It turned into a right old pile-on after that. The EFF released a statement condemning Daily Maverick. IOL got at least one more story out of it. A hitherto little-known trade union called the Information Communication Technology Union called for the immediate closure of Daily Maverick. Related tweeting went on, and on, and on.
Daily Maverick went to court, in the end, after repeatedly asking Modiba to take his tweets down in order to avoid legal action that nobody wanted. Modiba’s chosen response appears to have been along the lines of sticking his fingers in his ears and chanting “I CAN’T HEAR YOU. I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”
In other words, he did nothing. He also didn’t contest the defamation action brought by Daily Maverick, presumably because there was absolutely nothing he could mount in the way of a defence, other than maybe to draw a big picture of Pinocchio for the judge and point at himself while weeping remorsefully.
I suspect Modiba was scared, in the way that anyone would be when a lie you’ve repeatedly told to popular acclaim is about to be exposed as a gigantic shitburger. But on the positive side, Modiba has magically since managed to leverage his 15 minutes of Twitter fame into a whole YouTube show boasting such sought-after exclusives as “The Carl Niehaus Tell-All Interview”.
What bounty, all on the back of a bunch of cretinous lies about Daily Maverick! Modiba: you’re welcome. But you still owe this publication R100,000 now, since Judge Keoagile Matojane ruled that your tweets were “patently false and defamatory”.
Like I said, the whole thing is stupid. But it also demonstrates the kind of snowballing nonsense that increasingly threatens to derail media outlets from such other business as, y’know, holding the powerful to account — a mission at which the Zondo Commission has exposed other South African democratic institutions as being singularly useless in recent years.
As I type, there is a new narrative of woven porky pies doing the rounds, as exemplified by an IOL op-ed published on Tuesday of such nuclear-grade mendacity that even to click on the link would risk your computer being infected with a terrible lie-rus.
This one is about Daily Maverick and the … CIA? And … Nato? It follows an even juicier fibfest published on the same platform which included the claim that in addition to our salaries, journalists at Daily Maverick get extra sacks of gold direct from the US security establishment. Or something. Our colleagues at amaBhungane have been tarred with the same brush.
To call this stuff “fake news” is to imbue it with a dignity it does not deserve. The more accurate description is the old-fashioned one: lies. That a seemingly mainstream media outlet like IOL can publish this calumny apparently without flinching is an indictment of the times in which we live.
It is a tide of dishonesty on which we have to push back, no matter how ludicrous or boring or tiring it becomes. At stake are not just individual reputations, though those are certainly imperilled. At stake is the reputation of the media itself — which is being eroded more and more with every passing day. DM