Viroshini Naidoo vs Daily Maverick

Decision: Application for leave to appeal

Applicant: Viroshini Naidoo

Respondent: Daily Maverick

Matter No: 4536/08/2019 

  1. Mrs Viroshini Naidoo (“applicant”) had lodged a complaint against Daily Maverick (“respondent”) in respect of a story which appeared in the respondent’s edition of 23 August 2019, with the headline: “’Do not disturb’ sign stays on Gupta Lieutenant Kuben Moodley’s safety deposit boxes – for now.” The story reported, amongst others, that the applicant had hauled some contents of deposit boxes held with a particular company, Knox.  It said her husband also held deposit boxes there. The following were some of the salient issues in the report, which provide context: the applicant had been a director of Eskom; her husband was alleged to have worked together with the Gupta’s in relation to certain transactions which formed the subject matter of the Zondo Commission of inquiry into state capture. In fact, the Zondo Commission had applied for warrants to search and seize the contents of the deposit boxes of the applicant’s husband.  It was reported that the applicant herself was seen visiting her own deposit box and later apparently leaving with at least some of the contents of the boxes: when she arrived, her bag was light, but when she left, it appeared to be heavy and conversely, the deposit box was heavy when she took it into a viewing room, but light when she took it back.  The conclusion was obvious.  The report was based on court papers in a matter before court involving the applicant’s husband, Mr Moodley, the Commissioner and Knox.
  2. The applicant complained that the respondent breached a few articles of the Code: 1.8: failed to give her the opportunity to comment; 1.1: failed to report accurately and fairly; 1.2: failed to report in a balanced manner; 3.1: violation of her dignity. The Press Ombud confirmed the dismissal of the entire complaint by the Public Advocate.
  3. In her submission for leave to appeal the applicant makes the following points which are crucial.
    • The decision by (the Ombud) ignored the code of ethics … which states that the journalist cannot mention a person if they are not a party to the court matter unless its (sic) of public interest. I don’t work for government and its been 3 years since I left Eskom.  I am not of public interest. The box was opened 2 years after I left Eskom”.  But the problem is that the matter is of huge public interest. Eskom, a state enterprise, features prominently in the Zondo Commission, probably more than any other state enterprise.  That the applicant had left Eskom 2 years prior to the opening of the box must be considered against the fact that the report was based on a recent case.  Public interest overrides the right to privacy in this case.
    • The second point the applicant makes is this: “I was not a party to this court matter and there was no reason for me to be mentioned”. The Ombud diligently dealt with this point; she referred to several areas in the court papers where the applicant was mentioned; nothing needs to be added by me.
  4. The fundamental point is that the report was based on court papers. Reading the Ombud’s Ruling, and what is said above, I am of the view that the applicant has no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel; the application therefore fails.

Dated this 5th day of November 2019

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel