Regard must be had to the higher standard of conduct expected from public officials, and the number of falsehoods that have been put forward by the Public Protector in the course of the litigation. This conduct included the numerous “misstatements”, like misrepresenting, under oath, her reliance on evidence of economic experts in drawing up the report, failing to provide a complete record, ordered and indexed, so that the contents thereof could be determined, failing to disclose material meetings and then obfuscating the reasons for them and the reasons why they had not been previously disclosed, and generally failing to provide the court with a frank and candid account of her conduct in preparing the report. The punitive aspect of the costs order therefore stands.
There is an interesting article in today’s Business Day dealing with this question. It points out – as I have done elsewhere – that the ordinary laws of defamation applies to those who slander others on the Internet but that it would not always be possible to find those people when they act anonymously. Normally one would then be able to go after the company who facilitated the publishing of the alleged defamatory statements, but this is more difficult on the Internet.
The article points towards section 75 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2002 , which protects service providers who host Blogs and websites from defamation suits.
The section states that such a service provider is not liable for damages arising from data stored at the request of the recipient of the service, as long as the service provider:
If a service provider takes down material that is not defamatory, such a service provider will not be liable to the Blogger for any damages. This means there is an incentive for a service provider to be “rather safe than sorry” and to take down material – even if it is unclear whether the material is really defamatory or not.
At the same time the section is helpful because it prevents pre-publication censorship. This leaves the Blogosphere relatively free and unregulated because it does not require service providers to act as policemen of the content of Blogs or websites that they host.
We can continue to write what we like until some pesky politician or judge gets upset and sends a removal notice. We can then alert the rest of the Blogosphere and the mainstream media and draw attention to the alleged defamatory remarks. This will almost always backfire and may well result in more harm to the person complaining, than if he or she had just let sleeping dogs lie. Maybe that is why they call the Blogosphere a democratic space?