What the High Court decided about broadcasting the Oscar Pistorius trial

As you know, the Pretoria High Court granted the media permission to broadcast the upcoming Oscar Pistorius trial but don’t expect to see TV footage of Pistorius or his witnesses giving evidence. Judge President Mlambo has imposed a number of restrictions on the coverage you can expect in the coming weeks. The reasons for these restrictions stem from the considerations Judge Mlambo took into account and how the judge balanced a number of competing rights.

For one thing, you probably won’t see any video of Oscar Pistorius’ or his witnesses’ testimony (although you may hear it on radio). You won’t see close-ups either. This decision is more about upholding rights than it is about the hype.

Defamation law’s chilling effects on social media

If you look to recent cases, you generally see this issue arising in the context of politicians and sports personalities whose indiscretions are published online (usually Twitter) and disseminated rapidly. Embarrassed plaintiffs and applicants approach courts, indignant, and seek to silence the debates and expressions of schadenfreude. The courts, applying the law as they understand it to this new medium, grant orders which sometimes just seem to be out of touch with new realities. What concerns me about these cases is that simply applying these legal principles to this new, unprecedented landscape can, and often does, have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. 

What you can legally say on Twitter

When it comes to acceptable conduct on Twitter and, defamation in particular, our law will govern how South African Twitter users use Twitter and may well inform how Twitter responds to improper use of its service too. Although simply making defamatory statements is not immediately actionable, doing so unjustifiably likely is wrongful and can expose you to legal proceedings seeking to stop you, to remove your defamatory statements or even to claim financial compensation from you. That said, there would be a tension between Twitter’s approach to users’ freedom of expression and local judicial authorities’ approach which could be interesting but, on the whole, Twitter will likely respect local laws which are aligned, at least ostensibly, with its values.

Is porn industry regulation a freedom of expression issue?

Fiona Snyckers wrote an interesting post for Thought Leader titled “Regulation of the porn industry is not a free speech issue“. Her basic premise is that the porn, or adult entertainment, industry is primarily a commercial endeavour and content the content the industry produces is not protected as “free speech”. Leaving aside whether its desirableContinue reading “Is porn industry regulation a freedom of expression issue?”

Regulators: Hands off the social Web

Two recent events have sparked debates about whether the social Web should be censored: the first is the recent civil unrest in London and the second is a recent report in the Sunday Times about a racist calling himself “Eugene Terrorblanche” publishing a deeply disturbing photo on Facebook (it turns out this is an oldContinue reading “Regulators: Hands off the social Web”

Privacy, freedom of expression and Julius Malema’s failed City Press gag attempt

When Julius Malema learned that the City Press was about to publish details of his wealth and resources, he launched an urgent application to stop the publication from going to press. Judge Colin Lamont ruled against Malema in an judgment which seems reminiscent of the judgment against the former and late Health Minister, Judge LamontContinue reading “Privacy, freedom of expression and Julius Malema’s failed City Press gag attempt”

Super-injunctions, football players and their affairs

While they were initially intended to protect the people whose lives may be at risk should their identities ever be exposed (for example, child offenders), super-injunctions are being used by English celebrities and other personalities to stifle freedom of expression in England and Wales. Not only do these orders prohibit publication of information the applicantsContinue reading “Super-injunctions, football players and their affairs”

Manto v Sunday Times judgment a victory for free press

The judgment handed down last Friday has been hailed as a victory for the Health Minister by some publications and as a victory for the Sunday Times by others. Neither party is able to declare an outright victory in this matter. The Minister was successful in having her medical records returned to her or herContinue reading “Manto v Sunday Times judgment a victory for free press”