In South Africa, the Johannesburg High Court heard arguments today about whether the Sunday Times newspaper should return the medical records of the country’s health minister.
The newspaper, after a five-month investigation, recently alleged alcohol abuse by Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, including drinking in the months prior to her liver transplant and drinking in a hospital ward.The health minister denies the allegations.
VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the court case. From Johannesburg, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the health minister’s limited legal action.
“What the minister wants is for the court to rule that the possession of her medical records by the Sunday Times is illegal and to therefore to ensure that the records are returned to her custody. And I think she will also then seek, if the court rules in her favor, any reporting, any notes by the journalists or any information at all around that matter be struck from their records as well,” she says.
As for the allegations of alcohol abuse, Robertson says, “The minister would like the court to disregard those allegations. And of course the Sunday Times point of view is exactly the opposite to that. The Sunday Times is seeking from the court a ruling that the allegations are definitely in the public interest because of her position. She is arguing that she is seeking the court’s ruling as a private citizen and not as the minister of health.”
Since the health minister denies the paper’s allegations, will she sue for libel? Robertson says, “That’s interesting because she does in her application say that all of this is spurious, it’s scurrilous, there’s no substance to it whatsoever to any of these allegations. However, she does not expand on that statement and say why they are scurrilous, why they are incorrect. Earlier this week when the newspaper published specific allegations of alcoholism and a conviction for theft in Botswana some years ago, she at first said she was going to issue a statement disputing the allegations. She has not done so.”