Outspoken sports journalist and fierce critic of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) Graeme Joffe has welcomed the massive R21 million defamation suit Sascoc handed to him on Monday and says he’s not backing down.
Sascoc’s lawsuit could make legal history in South Africa seeing that its lengthy summons, filed at the South Gauteng High Court, includes a claim of defamation following a comment Joffe posted on Twitter.
A litigation expert specialising in social websites and digital media told City Press as far as he knew, nobody in South Africa has yet been sued for defamation because of a remark made on Twitter.
According to claim V in Sascoc’s summons, @Joffersmyboy, Joffe’s Twitter handle, tweeted the following on 24 March 2013: “Great news re: @Mugg_and_Bean sponsorship of SA men’s hockey. Just hope SASCOC don’t (get) their ‘grubby/tubby’ paws on any of the money,” apparently in reference to Sascoc CEO Tubby Reddy.
The tweet has seemingly since been removed from Joffe’s Twitter account.
The plaintiffs – the Olympic body itself and eight of its board members, including Reddy and president Gideon Sam – allege Joffe defamed them in a series of scathing remarks mostly published on the Sport24 website, The Citizen Online and The South African between August 2012 and June this year.
“I’m ready for them. This needed to happen to open up the can of worms. If this ends in court, Sascoc will be forced to finally play open cards with regards to its finances and the issues around its governance in general,” a confident Joffe told City Press this week.
He maintains his barrage of accusations against the sports governing body can be backed up with facts and that Sascoc will be pushed into a corner if the matter goes to court.
“I’m 100% backed up in terms of documentation. The rest will come when we’re in court and we ask for crucial documents to be released,” Joffe explained.
In the lengthy summons of more than 40 pages, Sascoc maintains Joffe defamed it and its board members when he criticised them for allegedly mismanaging Sascoc funds and “rigging” its own elections last year.
Joffe is also being sued for the swipes he took at Sascoc for what he called South Africa’s “gravy train Sport Awards”, the alleged mismanagement of money it receives from the National Lottery Trust Fund and the so-called bullying of member federations.
In January, the South Gauteng High Court set a legal precedent when it granted a local Facebook user an interdict against a former friend, ordering her to stop making defamatory statements on his Facebook page.
“The legal principles for a defamation case involving statements made on Twitter will be the same. The difference will be the scale of the audience exposed to the remark.
“Because of re-tweets, a Twitter user could have a much broader audience,” explained litigation attorney and social media expert Paul Jacobson.
When City Press approached Sam on Friday to comment on the defamation suit, he said he was in Ivory Coast and referred us to Sascoc employee Jean Kelly.
Yesterday, Kelly said she could not comment on behalf of the board and said everything was in the court papers.
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