The arrest yesterday of Juan Uys, the man accused of being both Neil Watson from the Crime Expo SA site and "Skye", the so-called SA Male Prostitute who earlier this year "exposed" a number of celebrities on his blog, has once again raised the issue of blogging and the law.
Uys was arrested on a warrant of "fraud and forgery" and there are also outstanding charges relating to SA Crime Expo which were laid in November 2006 by Simon Grindrod, now deputy-president of the Independent Democrats political party.
Significantly, Grindrod was quoted this morning as strongly considering charges of crimen injuria against Uys for his alleged blog, under the pseudonym of "Skye".
The anonymous blogger, also known as SA Male Prostitute, named Grindrod and a number of other South African celebrities in his "expose", claiming they had been former clients.
Blogging is a globally-accepted forum for ordinary people to publish their own thoughts and opinions to the world. However – as one columnist put it – blogs have also become the toilet walls of the 21st century, with literally anyone able to publish literally anything, without any higher authority deciding what should or shouldn't go public.
However, there's a fine line between free speech – the holy grail of the blogging community – and using the public forum for making libellous or damaging statements about other people.
The mainstream media has long recognised this distinction, says one veteran newspaperman, who calls for the courts to make this case a precedent that will send a clear message to bloggers who may be tempted to use the Internet in sordid, libellous, damaging or fraudulent ways.
"The business of people hiding behind technology and freedom of speech to simply do as they please has got to stop," he says. "People need to use the medium responsibly.
"People think that because they have a blog, and a pseudonym, they can write what they like."
However, there are laws that govern what people are allowed to publish and he warns bloggers to understand what they are in order to avoid legal action.
In South Africa, civil law has provisions for defamation, libel and damages. In addition, there is still a common law making defamation a criminal matter – although there have been calls for this to be abolished.
Worldwide, however, there are accepted codes of conduct for bloggers to follow and others in the community will generally take a fellow blogger to task for contravening these.
Guidelines on an international blogging forum define defamation as a false and unprivileged statement of fact that is harmful to someone's reputation, and published "with fault," meaning as a result of negligence or malice.
Libel is a written defamation; slander is a spoken defamation.
Generally speaking, truth is a defense against a claim of defamation but the onus then rests on the author to prove the truth of his statements.
Importantly, a person need not be mentioned by name to bring a defamation suit, as long as he is reasonably identifiable.
On the whole, blogs enjoy the same constitutional rights as the mainstream media – but are also governed by the same rules of fair, ethical and responsible reporting.