Jacob Zuma in court on for his private prosecution attempt against Karyn Maughan and Billy Downer.
PHOTO: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images
Wednesday’s High Court dismissal of former president Jacob Zuma’s private prosecution of advocate Billy Downer and News24 journalist Karyn Maughan is a victory for the rule of law, for media freedom – and for the public at large, writes News24’s editorial team.
Former president Jacob Zuma’s biggest objective when he became head of state in 2009 was to remain out of jail. His whole corrosive tenure as head of state was geared towards that goal.
He appointed pliant heads of key institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority and the SA Revenue Service. He distributed patronage to curry favour with groups and factions. And he embarked on a legal strategy that has caused enormous damage to South Africans’ belief in the rule of law.
After his departure from office, and as it became increasingly likely that he would finally have to stand trial on charges of corruption related to the arms deal of the late 1990s and early 2000s, he has again sought to subvert the law. But his attempts to remove the State’s lead prosecutor on the matter, advocate Billy Downer, and muzzle journalist Karyn Maughan, who has been reporting on this for almost two decades, failed.
And it failed because the courts recognised that his institution of a private prosecution against the pair – related to Maughan’s publication of a letter attached to court documents – was an abuse of process, baseless and represented an assault on media freedom.
The judgment is clear that Downer has tried to prevent the court from being abused, and that Zuma’s latest court challenge is consistent with his so-called “Stalingrad strategy”. The three judges rejected this plan.
Also, the court has defended the right of Maughan to ply her trade in accordance with the Constitution and in the public interest. And it has also emphasised that not only do journalists have the obligation to seek the truth and share crucial information, but that the public has a right to receive information.
If Zuma had succeeded in his assault on Maughan, News24 and media freedom, those rights would have been impaired. We do our job in the interest of the public, and to the benefit of you reading this editorial. We do this on your behalf, and to ensure fairness and justice.
Wednesday’s judgment was a victory for the rule of law, for media freedom – and for the public at large.