The IPI global network welcomes a South African High Court decision overturning a gag order against investigative outlet Amabhungane in relation to its reporting on the Moti Group company. 

Moti Group had brought legal action against Amabhungane after the news outlet, using leaked files, published a critical exposé on the company’s business activities in Zimbabwe and its connections to the political elite in the country. On June 1, a lower court in South Africa ruled in Moti Group’s favor, directing Amabhungane to give the leaked files to Moti Group and issuing a gag order barring the outlet from reporting on the files. The effort to force Amabhungane to “return” the files was seen in part as an effort to determine who leaked the information to it. 

The Johannesburg High Court ruling on July 3 overturned the lower court’s ruling, calling Moti Group’s ex parte application “an egregious abuse of the process of court”.

“This important judgment confirmed the right of media in South Africa to protect their sources and rejected an outrageous effort by a company to censor investigative reporting”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “IPI welcome’s the High Court’s ruling in this case and we stand in solidarity with Amabhungane and their mission of watchdog journalism. Lawmakers and the judiciary in South Africa must learn from this case and take steps to prevent the weaponization of the courts to muzzle the media.”

In addition to the legal action, Moti Group was also disseminating videos on social media platforms like YouTube calling on people to boycott Amabhungane and not read or subscribe to their content. Zunaid Moti, Moti Group’s founder, also threatened Amabhungane in a video posted online, warning that the outlet doesn’t have the financial muscle to fight the Moti Group. On platforms like Twitter, trolls were also attacking journalists and supporters of Amabhungane criticizing them for using “stolen documents”. 

On June 30, IPI condemned these attempts by the Moti group to intimidate and silence the media.  

The South African Editors Forum, Media Monitoring Africa Trust, Campaign for Free Expression, and Corruption Watch were amici curiae in the court case, emphasizing the need to promote press freedom and also the critical value that investigative media play in exposing corruption. 

“The ruling was important as a vindication of the importance of media freedom, of the need for journalists to protect their sources, to disallow efforts that seek to abuse the court system, and to highlight the importance of journalists exposing wrongdoing,” William Bird, Director of Media Monitoring Africa, told IPI.

In the judgment, the court highlighted that “ as a general principle, a journalist who has received information in confidence is justified in refusing to perform an act which would unmask the source, unless the refusal would be inconsistent with the public interest.”

The court was also guided by key principles in regional and international frameworks including the United Nations Joint Declaration on Media Freedom and Democracy, 2023, the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which South Africa is a signatory.