Appeal Decision: Sunday Times vs Anant Singh

Mon, May 14, 2018

In the matter of

SUNDAY TIMES                                                                                                 APPLICANT


ANANT SINGH                                                                                               RESPONDENT

                                                                                         MATTER NO: 3714/03/2018


1.         Sunday Times (“applicant”) published a story in its edition of 25 February 2018 about Mr Anant Singh (“respondent”).  The headline read “Movie mogul seeks R1m from beyond grave”.  The content of the story identified the movie mogul as the respondent and the complaint was dealt with on that understanding by both parties and the Press Ombud.  The story said that the respondent wanted to recover the money, being legal costs, from a close corporation namely Giant Concerts, in which one Gayadin and his former wife were partners.  The legal costs were awarded in 2013 and 2014 in respect of a court case in which respondent’s company, Rinaldo Investments (PTY) Ltd and Giant Concerts were involved, fighting over a certain property in Durban. Gayandin died before the costs were recovered; the words “beyond grave” are therefore with reference to him. The story said that the property concerned, which had been bought by the respondent from the Department of Defence, could not, according to the Department, be transferred as the disposal had not been authorised.  This part of the story was understood by the respondent to be casting aspersions on his dignity and therefore damaging to his integrity; he understood it to mean that he had bought the property in an irregular manner.

2.         In his Ruling dated 16 March 2018, the Ombud correctly summarizes the respondent’s complaint as follows:

Singh complaints that the headline and the article were malicious, defamatory, insulting, false and unfair in that:

·                they were written in a sensational manner (with special reference to the use of the words in the headline ‘seeks R1m from the grave’, and ‘trying to recover R1-million from a dead man’ in the article);

·                the journalist reported selectively by not reflecting his response and that of the City of Durban, and merely quoted from court documents;

·                the impression was created that his buying of the old Natal Command site was questionable ………. and

·                the journalist reported on a different matter as the one about which she had interviewed him.

He concludes that the reportage has unnecessarily tarnished his dignity and reputation”.

3.         In its defence, the respondent says that it had uplifted the information that the respondent wanted to recover the legal costs from court documents.  Applicant also argued that, for this reason, it did not have to approach the respondent for comment in respect of the issue of the recovery of the costs.

4.         The Ombud dismissed all the complaints, but upheld the one referring to the headline. He then imposed a sanction.  The applicant now seeks leave to appeal the Ruling.  The respondent opposes the application.

5.         The application has no prospects of succeed at all and therefore falls to be dismissed.  It is incorrect of the applicant to say the respondent seeks to recover money from a dead person.  This is because the money was not owed by the deceased in his personal capacity, but by his Close Corporation.  Incidentally it also appears that it was not the respondent personally who was after the money but his company known as Rinaldo Investments (Pty) Ltd. The applicant committed a basic error: it conflated the individuality or person of the deceased with his CC (and also that of the respondent and Rinaldo).  I put the latter part in brackets because it is in any case immaterial; the first error alone is fatal to the applicant’s case. The respondent is described as a film “mogul” (read: very rich); he is then cast as someone who, rich as he is, is busy pursuing a dead person into the grave to get his money back, whereas the truth is that his company is trying to recover the money from Giant Concerts (an entity different from the deceased.

6.         The application is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 14th day of May 2018

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel