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Right of Reply: “Unbalanced” Cape Times has its lawyers threaten Biznews.

Dr Iqbal Survé

Although our paths rarely crossed during my brief stay at the SA Broadcasting Corporation (1992-94), I do remember Ed Herbst as a thorough gentleman with unimpeachable integrity. The years have reinforced that perspective, especially after the long retired Mr Herbst applied his time, energy and meticulous research to articles which we have been delighted to publish. His work speaks for itself; a liberal use of links to other sources encourages readers to double check his assertions by doing their own further investigation. After reading what follows below, you may agree that yesterday’s bluster from Iqbal Surve’s lawyer at Webber Wentzel is at the other end of the spectrum. Have another read of the story in question (click here) to judge for yourself. The way we see it, the Cape Times newspaper’s falling circulation is a reflection of the way it has itself alienated its core audience. Trying to blame the consequences on a messenger so obviously acting in the public interest, is ridiculous. We await the Cape Times’s detailed response to what its lawyer terms “each and every untrue and defamatory statement” and will publish them with equal prominence. There is no logic in removing a well researched article whose publication is fair comment and clearly in the public interest. So we won’t. – Alec Hogg 

FROM SELWYN HOCKEY OF WEBBER WENTZEL

Dear Sirs

RE: BIZNEWS PUBLICATION “CAPE TIMES POLITICAL GYMNASTICS KNOCKS IT OFF THE BALANCE BEAM”

1. We confirm that we act for:

1.1 Sekunjalo Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd (“Sekunjalo”);

1.2 Independent Media (Pty) Ltd (“Independent Media”);

1.3 Dr Iqbal Surve (“Dr Surve”); and

1.4 the Cape Times and its editor, Mr Aneez Salie (collectively referred to as “our clients”).

2. We refer to the article written by Ed Herbst and published in BizNews, titled “Cape Times political gymnastics knocks it off the balance beam”, dated 6 March 2017(“the impugning article”).

3. The impugning article contains a significant amount of untrue and defamatory statements pertaining to our clients and is indeed per se defamatory of our clients. We do not intend traversing or responding, in this letter, to each and every untrue and defamatory statement contained in the impugning article. Our clients’ rights to respond to the untrue and defamatory statements at the appropriate time and in the appropriate forum are expressly reserved.

4. The impugning article was clearly written and published with malice and with the intention to defame our clients. The impugning article has (as was the intention of the writer and publishers), and will have, the effect of impairing our clients’ reputations, resulting in our clients suffering significant damages, having regard to inter alia the following.

4.1 The impugning article contains allegations that the Cape Times specialises in “Fake News” and that the newspaper constantly publishes falsehoods and “fabricated facts”. It furthermore contains innuendo that the Cape Times is guilty of unethical news coverage. These derogatory allegations and innuendo have a profound negative impact on the integrity of the Cape Times and serves to impair and undermine the newspaper’s credibility. These derogatory allegations and innuendo suggests to readers, and the general public, that all Cape Times publications are dishonest and false and that the Cape Times is not to be trusted as a credible and reliable source of news content. This has the effect of leading the general public in shunning and avoiding the Cape Times, reducing the estimation of the newspaper in the minds of right-thinking members of the public, and ultimately leads to a decline in the newspaper’s readership, resulting in the newspaper and Independent Media suffering substantial financial loss.

4.2 The impugning article contains further allegations and innuendo that serve to undermine and impair the publication’s credibility and reputation. These allegations and innuendo suggest that the Cape Times is not a neutral publication as it, as well as Independent Media, is favourably biased towards the ruling party (the African National Congress), and vehemently anti the white populace. According to these allegations and innuendo, the Cape Times and Independent Media (since Sekunjalo’s acquisition thereof) have an “openly proclaimed vendetta” against white staff, and is embarking on a “brazen and unashamed vendetta of falsehoods against [Helen] Zille”, being a prominent figure in the opposition party. An ordinary reader would, even upon a cursory read of the impugning article, deem the Cape Times to be a newspaper allied with the African National Congress, guilty of deliberate political and racial bias, and consequently many such readers would regard the publication with enmity and contempt. These allegations and innuendo have the effect of isolating a significant segment of society from the Cape Times. It leads to readers, not only a particular racial segment or politically affiliated segment of society but the general public at large, avoiding or shunning the Cape Times. This will have a definite impact on the readership of the Cape Times and result in ensuing financial loss. Furthermore, these allegations and innuendo insinuate that Sekunjalo is involved in the “openly proclaimed vendetta” against white staff, which severely impairs Sekunjalo’s business reputation and results in substantial damages being suffered.

4.3 Further allegations and innuendo contained in the impugning article suggests to readers that the Cape Times is not a respectable institution, that it will evade accountability and that the quality of its publications is questionable if not sub-par. It further contains an analogy that Sekunjalo, the Cape Times, Independent Media and Dr Surve should be held in the same regard as the Gupta family, who have been widely shunned by the South African society at large. It is evident that these malicious allegations and innuendo are intended to defame our respective clients and to lead to their shunning. It is also intended to deter the public from reading and purchasing Independent Media’s newspapers, and in particular, the Cape Times. As a result, Independent Media and the Cape Times will suffer substantial financial loss. The aforementioned analogy severely impairs Sekunjalo’s business reputation, leading to the company being shunned by potential investors and the general public. As a result, Sekunjalo will suffer substantial financial loss and monetary damages.

4.4 The impugning article furthermore takes aim at the reputations of the staff employed at Independent Media in that it contains innuendo suggesting to readers that Mr Aneez Salie is not a credible or worthy editor of the Cape Times, and that Mr Gasant Abarder is guilty of racial bias. This serves to undermine and impair our clients and their staff’s professional and personal reputations, exposing them to ridicule, contempt and enmity.

4.5 Read in its context and in its entirety, the impugning article does not amount to robust criticism of our clients. Instead, the impugning article amounts to meaningless abuse which impairs our clients’ reputations.

5. The continued availability of the impugning article on public platforms will serve to further impair and damage our clients’ reputations and should be removed immediately. Failure so to act will aggravate the harm caused to our clients.

6. In the circumstances, we are instructed to demand, as we hereby do, the immediate removal and retraction of the impugning article, the publication of an unconditional, prominent and appropriate public apology (in terms agreed to by our clients), which should be prominently published on the BizNews website. The aforementioned apology must be published within 3 business days from the date of this letter.

7. We are furthermore instructed to demand that BizNews and Ed Herbst cease and desist its continuous publications of defamatory articles pertaining to our clients.

8. In the event of our clients’ demand not being met adequately, timeously or at all, our clients will pursue legal recourse to the full extent permitted by law, including the institution of High Court proceedings for a claim for damages, which will be substantial.

9. All of our client’s rights are expressly reserved.

Yours faithfully

Webber Wentzel

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