Sunday, July 09, 2006

Zuma Shows Support for Freedom of the Press

Jacob Zuma, South Africa's former deputy president, took aim at the media on Monday, suing publishers, editors, reporters, a cartoonist and newspapers for their coverage and comment of his rape trial.
The defamation claims run into hundreds of millions of rands, much of it directed at reporters and editors of Independent Newspapers.
The Star newspaper said on Tuesday that Zuma is demanding R125-million for an article and a series of cartoons it published. Apparently Zuma's lawyers served Independent Newspapers separate summonses for different articles, which total R125-million.
The paper said lawyers for Zuma contend that the articles and cartoons "injured [Zuma] in his dignity and his reputation".
The cartoons were created by Jonathan Shapiro, who uses the pen name Zapiro and contributes cartoons to several media groups, including Independent Newspapers and Johnnic Communcations, which publishes the Sunday Times.
Zuma wants R15-million from Shapiro for creating three cartoons relating to Zuma's rape trial earlier this year. Zuma was acquitted on all charges of raping a 31-year-old HIV-positive family friend. He maintained they had consensual sex.
What reputation?
Shapiro told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday morning that there are three specific cartoons that Zuma or his lawyers feel are defamatory and have injured his dignity and reputation.
"What reputation? He has done everything that needs to be done to damage his own reputation," said Shapiro.
"What I feel -- and I really do see this as a publicity stunt -- [is that] he's obviously trying to find ways to ameliorate the damage he himself has caused. He's obviously caused a lot of damage to himself in and out of court … This is spin. I don't think it's going to go far."
One of the cartoons that raised Zuma's ire depicts him being sworn in at his rape trial. He is shown with two fingers raised -- and crossed.
Another cartoon shows the "Jacob Zuma Moral Regeneration Handbook".
"I got a huge response from that cartoon," said Shapiro. "I looked really carefully at all the stuff he had said and had been quoted on. The attitudes were reflected there [in the cartoon] are so directly linked to his own statements. If I had to, I'd defend them in court, but I don't think they will get that far. I think he [Zuma] will come off badly."
Shapiro said the defamation cases are an attempt by Zuma to "retrieve his reputation".
"His reputation is irretrievable -- and undamageable among another sector [of the population]. He's going to come off badly again -- except with his diehard supporters who can't see him doing anything wrong."
The third cartoon over which Shapiro is being taken to task depicts Zuma emerging from the courtroom, "looking piglike", according to the cartoonist.
"He has an Aids-prevention shower on his head … his head is in two parts and he is shooting his umshini wam [machine gun]; there is a bottle of baby oil strapped to his leg. All those little details are based on things that are defensible."
Shapiro said he refuses to be cowed by the defamation suits.
"The last thing that I would want this to do would be to intimidate other satirists or commentators from doing what we want to do. This is designed to intimidate and curb free speech. It's designed as spin. I won't be intimidated."
'My name is Zuma'
Broadcaster 94.7 Highveld Stereo was initially to be sued for R5-million for broadcasting a satirical song called My Name Is Zuma, commenting on the rape trial.
It was played by Darren "Whackhead" Simpson, a member of the radio station's Rude Awakening (RAW) team. A statement by Zuma's legal team said the song was broadcast twice in April and May this year.
When the RAW team played the song again on Monday morning this week after hearing about the slander charge against them, Zuma decided to increase the claim against the radio station to R7-million.
"During the programme they mimicked a trial between themselves and Zuma. The Highveld Stereo presenter, Jeremy Mansfield, ruled at the end of the 'trial' that the accused was not guilty," said the statement by Zuma's legal team.
After this, Zuma informed his legal team he wanted the claim to be increased.
"It is unacceptable that someone can show such contempt for our legal system by aping a court sitting and pre-empting a judgement, and in this way just insulting me further," Zuma said in the statement.
Another claim of R10-million is against the Afrikaans Sunday paper, Rapport, while the Sunday Times has been hit with a R6-million claim.
The Citizen, Sunday Sun, Sunday Independent and Sunday World are being sued for R5-million each. Nearly all the items in which Zuma feels he was defamed are opinion pieces or cartoons.
The M&G is not among the media organisations being sued.
Zuma has appointed former Conservative Party MP advocate Jurg Prinsloo and Johannesburg attorney Wycliffe Mothuloe to fight his "crucifixion by the media" and investigate possible defamation claims.
A footnote in the press release Zuma issued on Monday states that "members of the defamation legal team will not have contact with the media at this stage".
The press release said the media organisations had 14 days to pay the claimed amounts to Zuma. If this did not happen, they would receive a summons to appear in court.

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