The lawyer representing the EFF argued in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Monday that journalist and political commentator Karima Brown did not conduct herself in a fair, objective or professional manner in her criticism of the EFF.
“The journalist we are dealing with is one who is intent on having a registered political party deregistered. That is the context.
“When one is confronted with these kinds of utterances by a journalist, is one to sit idly by and not express concern in a WhatsApp message a journalist has put out?” Vuyani Ngalwana, SC, submitted to the court.
Ngalwana was referring to several examples of commentary in which Brown was critical of the EFF ahead of her court battle with the political party.
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He cited an opinion piece in The Citizen in which Brown asked if a political party that attacks a woman journalist ‘should be allowed to contest elections’.
He also cited a message in an Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) media WhatsApp group in which said she ‘wants to end the EFF’ and a programme in which she allegedly accused the EFF of race baiting, to name a few.
This crux of the case, however, began when Brown mistakenly sent an editorial brief to an EFF media WhatsApp group. She wrote: “Keep an eye out for this. Who are these elders? Are they all male and how are they chosen? Keep watching brief.”
The message was quickly deleted but not before EFF leader Julius Malema was able to take a screenshot which was posted on his personal Twitter profile (followed by 2.3 million followers at the time) in which he alleged that Brown was attempting to send a mole to the EFF’s breakfast for the elderly.
The tweet exposed Brown’s cellphone number without her consent and led to a period of harassment, intimidation as well as death and rape threats.
Brown received a barrage of insults. She was called, among other derogatory names, “an Indian whore and bitch” and she was insulted, threatened and accused of allegedly sending moles to spy on them, News24 previously reported.
Arguing on Brown’s behalf, Geoff Budlender, SC, submitted that Malema’s conduct was in contravention of the Electoral Act as it incited his Twitter followers to abuse and intimidate a journalist.
“Malema’s conduct constitutes a contravention of the electoral code as he took no reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the Electoral Act, to make sure that journalists are not facing any harassment, intimidation, threats by political parties.
“We know for a fact that Brown is a journalist. He was asked to take steps to avoid this and he said that ‘I won’t do it,'” Budlender argued.
While Budlender acknowledged that Malema apologised to Brown during a media briefing on April 10, he argued that this was not sufficient.
“The apology was far too little, far too late. Brown had already been harassed and intimidated for a month. It is only after the damage was done and they were faced with litigation that they sought to distance themselves from the conduct,” he said.
As a result, Brown wants the court to find that the EFF contravened parts of the electoral code and are seeking an apology via Twitter, the imposition of a fine of R100 000 as well as costs.
Budlender asked the court to deal with the matter on an urgent basis because it was before the elections.
“This is a case about the functioning of our constitutional democracy. By its nature it is urgent. It is in the interests of justice that this matter is heard before the elections. Voters have a right to know about this before they vote,” he submitted.
The hearing continues.