Defend Truth

Opinionista

IOL’s actions are a SLAPP in the face of free speech and the Press Code of Ethics

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Styli Charalambous is the CEO and co-founder of Daily Maverick, having joined the effort a few months before launch in 2009. Over the years, he has studied media models and news innovation efforts. He has also helped launch various projects and products within the Daily Maverick orbit.

SLAPPs are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation and are increasingly being used around the world to threaten, consume and defund those who work in pursuit of public interest. In essence, they’re used to drain funds and to distract companies, such as Daily Maverick, from continuing the work we do.

Every time we publish an article or investigation detailing the malfeasance of Sekunjalo, Independent Media (oh, the irony in the name!) and/or any of the many entities that seem to do Iqbal Survé’s bidding, we are sent a letter of demand or served a court summons.

In the past two years alone, we have been sent 15 of these and the latest came after we reported on a Stock Exchange News Service announcement they sent themselves! Just to be clear, these summons and letters of demand are issued when we report on the corrupt actions of Iqbal Survé and the many entities he directs. Our articles have evidence to back up everything we say (because we at Daily Maverick actually subscribe to, and practise, the Press Code of Ethics).

As much as we would love to see the “good” doctor and his cronies in court, we didn’t manipulate share prices and sell these on to the Public Investment Corporation at astronomical levels. We don’t have a slush fund to dip into, to finance those fun team-building excursions to the high court. Instead, after a concerted multiyear attack on us, we decided to approach Independent Media’s own internal ombudsman to rule on these defamatory articles. (Having withdrawn itself from the Press Council in 2016, the company has its own ombud, who pinky-swears to be fair and objective.)

In December 2021, we sent a complaint of the 10 most recent defamatory attacks on Daily Maverick and its senior leaders published on Iqbal Online, er, IOL. After many weeks of sitting on the submission, IOL, after requesting more time, chose not to submit any response. On 16 February 2022, Independent Media’s ombud, Yogas Nair, and its panel declined to pursue our complaints because of the IOL nonresponse after a publicly declared ambition by the Survé fiefdom to pursue legal challenges on SA media. Essentially, IOL has vaguely threatened to sue entire free media, therefore its ombudsman will not function any more.

This proves two things: 1) IOL is not interested in an ethical resolution of defamatory attacks; and 2) its strategy is to use the law as a weapon to derail the work of public interest journalism.

What’s struck me about the barrage of legal letters and summons is that the lawyers acting for these people are not only being paid from looted funds but are actively working to hurt our democracy. Like the many named in the Zondo Commission report, the role of “advisers” in State Capture continues. The Law Society has formulated a set of rules by which SA lawyers must abide to ensure a standard of ethics and professionalism. The repeated practice of SLAPPs doesn’t fall anywhere close to the ethical category. Their families, never mind their law professors, must be so proud of their work.

While everyone deserves a defence, weaponising the law for these motives of intimidation and distraction should win you a special place in the Third Circle of Hell. It should also result in sanctions from the Law Society, and hopefully the policy reform necessary to provide protection from these tactics.

By the way, the firm slapping us with this legal quicksand is Abrahams Kiewitz. I’m sure they’re just doing their jobs but history is littered with people “just doing their jobs” while being payrolled by people wishing ill to democracy. If you – or your business – work with these fine legal minds of outstanding morals and ethics, consider whether they deserve your support.

As for any complaints about IOL’s editorial attacks, it’s clear that any victims of their “reporting”, like us, will have to go the costly, lengthy legal route for any relief. But, then again, that was the plan all along.

As important as it is to get your news from a credible source, it’s just as important to understand the ethics of the legal firm you employ (and while you’re at it, the institution you bank with). You should do our democracy a favour and kick these enablers into touch – quickly, before their next letter pollutes our Inbox. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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  • I see on AK company webpage, it proudly highlights their pursuit of public interest cases.
    Copy pasted below:
    „ Public Interest Litigation
    Abrahams Kiewitz has been and continues to be at the forefront of very important public interest and human rights litigation in South Africa. The firm has been a leader in developing class actions in South Africa as a means of making public interest and human rights litigation more effective.
    The firm has brought a number of landmark public interest cases before the courts..“
    [Sic – the two dots at end of sentence is theirs …?]

    A law firm that firmly swings both ways…

  • What you are saying also applies to the regular bunch of lawyers who roll out the usual tactics to defend, or rather protect, their top paying clients from the consequences of their criminality: technical arguments ( as now being used in the Digital Vibes case), accusations of conspiracy and racism, and appeal after appeal including the nonsensical but now fashionable rescission application to the Apex court. These lawyers of course know their clients are as guilty as sin of the most egregious corruption and that they are being paid with the proceeds of crime. It also wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a miscreant who is in a position to use department funds to litigate, employs her favourite lawyer at madly inflated costs to run unwinnable applications for benefits in kind or kick backs.

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