Appeal Decision: Reddy Yugeshnie vs Natal Witness

Wed, Aug 26, 2020

In the matter of

REDDY YUGESHNIE                                                                                         APPLICANT


NATAL WITNESS                                                                                           RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 7777/03/2020


  1. The applicant in this matter is Ms Yugeshnie Reddy (“applicant”). She lodged a complaint against the Natal Witness (“respondent”) regarding articles that appeared on different occasions in the respondent.  The first story appeared on 22 January 2020 under the headlines “Socialite lived in fear” and “Nobody deserves to die the way she did.” The second article she complained about was published on I February 29020 with the headline “Fun, hard-working mother.” The applicant charged that both articles together breached clauses 1.2 and 3.3 of the Press Code. The sub-head in the first story read “Was her killer known to Northdale businesswoman Kavitha Nerputh?” The stories were about the murder of a Pietermaritzburg businesswoman, Kavitha Nerputh (‘the deceased”).
  2. In the first story it was, amongst others, stated that the deceased had, prior to her death, expressed fear for herself and family, and that she was embroiled in several harassment and protection orders. It was also mentioned that the deceased had gotten a protection order against the applicant, with whom they used to be friends before their relationship went sour. That they used to be friends, and that the relationship soured to the point that the deceased got the protection order against the applicant, is not in dispute, although the applicant denied the harassment. In the second story (1 February 2020) one of the deceased’s children again mentioned the fact that the deceased expressed fear for her safety, which was the Saturday before her death on Monday. There was in the article also a quick recap, referring to the first story; the recap mentioned that the deceased was “at the centre of several harassment cases that were granted in her favour. In the days before her murder she faced more harassment, threating telephone calls and messages, and had sought help from police.” It seems there had also been yet another article on 22 January 2020 reporting on the deceased’s death and which also mentioned that she “had been embroiled with several harassment and protection orders.”
  3. The respondent also reported that there was a complaint by the deceased of being referred to as a “sex trader” and a “prostitute” on social platform, which was directed by her against the applicant. The deceased went further to seek a protection order against the applicant. The magistrate who heard the matter granted the order while at the same time dismissing the applicant’s counter application. The applicant has attached to her application copies of her notice of appeal against the protection order.
  4. In light of all the reportage above, the applicant felt that the respondent was connecting her to the murder. “The Natal Witness owes my family… an apology. I cannot cope with the slander they have brought into my life any longer.” The applicant also sought an apology from the respondent, both in print and online, and a statement that she was not involved in the murder of the deceased. In its defence, the respondent denied that its articles insinuated that the applicant was involved and pointed out that it did not state anywhere in the articles that the applicant was. It said the applicant’s feud with the deceased, which led to the protection order, was a matter of public record and that the reports were factual. Importantly, the respondent pointed out that the articles mentioned that there were many other cases in which the deceased was involved, implying that she could have had many other enemies.
  5. The applicant’s complaints were also accurately summarized by the Ombud in his Ruling dated 22 June 2020, which had included the following: that she was not given the opportunity to comment; that her photo with her husband was published without her consent and that the articles were biased against her. All the complaints were dismissed.
  6. The Ombud correctly refused to entertain a complaint against an article published in 2019. It came long out of time. One can sum the basis on which the applicant’s entire complaint was dismissed: None of the stories singled out the applicant; it was mentioned that the deceased was involved in other cases; the fact that the order was obtained was true, notwithstanding an attempt to appeal it; there was no need to obtain permission for the publication of the applicant’s pictures with her husband especially as her name was mentioned in court papers; she was given right of reply and her comments were published; for example she was quoted as wishing for the arrest of the murderer – an exculpatory statement! Given all the above, the Ombud could not see any bias.
  7. In her application for leave to appeal the applicant is still not able to show how the respondent could have conveyed an impression that she was connected to the murder, which is the crux of her complaint.
  8. For an application for leave to appeal to succeed, the applicant must show reasonable prospects of success on appeal. I have earlier on gone into details about contents of the stories. It is clear that there was no basis in anyone of them to argue that, even by implication, the applicant was connected to the murder. Importantly, the material facts are common cause. The reporting was factual. I am therefore of the view that the applicant has no prospects of success. Accordingly, the application is turned down.

Dated this 26th day of August 2020

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel