The Johannesburg High Court on Monday set aside an order that effectively prevented investigative journalism unit amaBhungane from reporting on documents related to controversial Johannesburg businessman Zunaid Moti and his group of companies.
The Moti group claims these documents were stolen by an employee before he resigned.
However, on Monday, Judge Roland Sutherland set aside the initial order – which was granted in chambers by Judge John Holland-Muter – and described it as “an abuse of the process of the court”.
Sutherland also ruled that the Moti group pay amaBhungane’s legal fees.
“A key dimension of effective investigative journalism is receiving information from sources who wish to remain anonymous,” says Sutherland in the latest ruling in the case that tested the country’s media freedom.
Sutherland pointed out in his judgment that the law “within limits” provides for the protection of sources.
“We are delighted with this resounding affirmation of investigative journalism and amaBhungane’s role in pursuing it with integrity and in the public interest,” amaBhungane editor-in-chief Sam Sole told AFP on Monday.
A large part of the case, which was heard last week, focused on the distinction between freedom of the press and the protection of privacy.
The initial order gave amaBhungane the right to return to court before October this year and challenge it before it was made final.
RNews earlier reported that the affidavit in the initial application – behind closed doors – was declared under oath by newly appointed CEO Andrew Dondo Mogajane after Moti recently resigned as CEO of the 250 companies in the group.
Mogajane claims the documents in amaBhungane’s possession were stolen late last year by former employee Clinton van Niekerk, just before he quickly resigned.
The group’s lawyers, Ulrich Roux and Partners, demanded the documents back in writing in April this year because they contained confidential information.
However, AmaBhungane refused to provide the documents as it could potentially reveal the identity of its confidential sources.