The Constitutional Court upholding the Citizen newspaper's appeal in a defamation case by former Ekurhuleni metro police chief, Robert McBride, is a victory for freedom of expression and the media, says the SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef).
"Sanef, which supported the Citizen's appeal as a friend of the court (amicus), believes that the finding will aid newspapers in their battle against defamation claims and strengthen the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the media," said Sanef in a statement on Monday.
"Sanef notes the important point of principle established by the Constitutional Court that published criticism was protected even if it were extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced so long as it expressed an honestly-held opinion, without malice, on a matter of public interest on facts that were true."
The Constitutional Court in a unanimous judgment held on Friday that the Reconciliation Act did not make the fact that McBride committed murder untrue.
The court found that the act did not prohibit frank public discussion of his act as "murderer" and did not prevent his being described as a "criminal".
The Constitutional Court said that protected comment need not be "fair or just at all" in any sense in which these terms were commonly understood.
The Citizen's main appeal was upheld and the court dismissed McBride's cross-appeal, but nevertheless found that the newspaper had defamed McBride by claiming falsely that he was not remorseful.
McBride was afforded R50 000 for this, reducing his damages awarded by the lower court from R150 000.
The matter relates to 2003 when The Citizen newspaper published a number of articles and editorials questioning McBride's candidacy for the head of the Ekurhuleni metro police.
The articles said McBride had been unsuitable because he was a "criminal" and a "murderer".