Hard on the heels of the controversy that exploded after a blogger published libellous allegations and rubbish about various celebrities and then tried to hide behind the right to "freedom of expression" and anonymity afforded by the web comes the spat between the country’s leading Sunday newspaper and the national Minister of Health.
It’s hard to believe that the newspaper concerned waded into publishing various allegations concerning the Minister on the basis of the ancient journalistic cliche of "publish and be damned".
There is little doubt that the newspaper would have launched the expose with its eyes wide open – that it fully understands its moral obligations and constitutional rights as far as freedom of the press and the freedom of expression is concerned. There is even less doubt that the newspaper’s publishers know and fully understand what they have taken on and that they will be held accountable by law for all that they have published and may still publish.
The Minster, too, will have her day in court. With the full might of the law behind her she will not be expected to prove that the allegations are untrue. The onus is on her accusers to prove absolutely and beyond any reasonable doubt not only that the accusations are factual but also that it was also in the public interest to publish.
How this saga plays out over the weeks and months to come will provide an excellent example of exactly how similar issues in the parallel publishing world of "cyberspace" should be dealt with.
For some strange reason bloggers as well as many ISPs host sites that totally ignore or fly in the face of publishing laws, such as libel. They appear to believe that they are above the law and that the established legal system does not apply to the Internet or the web. In fact, many "techno geeks" and even some fine legal minds believe that new laws need to be drafted to deal with how freedom of expression is dealt with along the "information super highway".
If ever there was a case in recent South African history to test the boundaries between freedom of expression and the law, this will be it – regardless of the "publishing" medium.
– David Bryant