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News Bulletin wins defamation case

Bulletin wins defamation case
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Victory for The Bulletin in a R1,2M Defamation of Character case. The Bulletin was sued for an astronomical amount of R1,2M after an article was placed in April 2018 when a baboon was shot.
The Bulletin reported extensively on the handling of the matter, especially by the SPCA and their senior inspector at the time, Jenneth Geel.
There was a keen public interest in the matter and a huge public outcry at the eventual shooting of the baboon.
Senior Inspector Jenneth Geel, in her capacity, subsequently sued The Bulletin for R1.2m stating that the article was defamatory, premised on the following and accompanying sting:
That the plaintiff (Jenneth Geel) is heartless, ruthless, careless, confrontational and without moral fibre and is, in fact, an enemy of animals contrary to her position as SPCA inspector.
That the plaintiff has gone against and failed to uphold her duty to protect animals following her position as SPCA inspector.
That the plaintiff cruelly executed an animal without exhausting other options.
Inferring that the plaintiff did not take the interests of the animal into consideration contrary to her position as SPCA inspector and that the plaintiff lied about the condition and circumstances of the animal and incident.
The matter was set down for trial in the Middelburg High Court on 26/27 August 2019.
In her judgment, High Court Judge Mali said: “The pertinent question to ask is what an ordinary reader of The Bulletin would have understood in reading the article. The readers would have understood that the SPCA failed to protect animal rights as expected. Furthermore, Ms. Geel gave the order to shoot an escaped baboon. By virtue of her position as Senior Inspector at the SPCA, she is the face of the organisation. It is very correct and prudent that the article had to carry her photograph.”
At the time of publication, Jenneth Geel was contacted twice by Gwendie Venter, reporter at The Bulletin at the time, to verify the facts and to give her an opportunity to comment. Geel declined the opportunity.
The Bulletin used a sentence that said: “The protector of animal rights turned into the hunter”.
Judge Mali also found that the word “hunter” to be adequately utilised in a context dealing with animals.
“From the above, it is found that there is nothing defamatory about the article. As a result, the plaintiff’s claim ought not to succeed.” Judge Mali concluded.
Jenneth Geel vented her anger on social media after the publication of the article and made defamatory statements of her own regarding The Bulletin’s editor stating that he should have been flushed down the drain before the cells divided. The social media post makes more remarks, including that the article is a pack of lies, that it is defamatory and a counterclaim was lodged. This claim succeeded.
Judge Mali said in her judgment: “Defences to defamation have been referred to above. Anger, forgetfulness and stress are not one of them. The reader of the Facebook Bulletin News would have thought little of the Chief Editor of The Bulletin news. Ms. Geel’s words cannot be turned around to mean anything except that she does not even see Mr van Huyssteen as a human being. She portrays him as something, not just anything, but a useless object not meant to exist at all. She hailed serious insults at him, something that would have left the readers pondering whether Mr van Huyssteen is in the right state of mind as an insulting reference is made about the size of his mind.”
“Ms. Geel proved to be an unreliable and evasive witness who shifted the blame to stress and forgetfulness.” Judge Mali said.

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Bulletin wins defamation case

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