14/06/2017 20:37 SAST | Updated 15/06/2017 09:47 SAST

HuffPost SA's Former Editor Verashni Pillay Is Granted Leave To Appeal Hate Speech Ruling

"I am of the view that she has demonstrated reasonable prospects of success before the appeals panel."

A blogger.
Getty Images/iStockphoto
A blogger.

The former editor-in-chief of HuffPost South Africa has been granted leave to appeal the hate speech ruling by the Press Ombud which ultimately led to her resignation, the appeals panel of the Press Council said on Wednesday.

The appeal would be heard by the chair of the appeals panel, retired Constitutional Court Judge Bernard Ngoepe and his adjudication panel on July 13 at a venue and time to be announced.

The respondent is the NGO Afriforum, which had objected to a column HuffPost published "Could It Be Time To Deny White Men The Franchise?" on April 13 this year by Shelley Garland.

In the backlash, Verashni Pillay also wrote a piece explaining why it was published, saying the ideas Garland expressed were in line with feminist theory.

However, Shelley Garland turned out to be a pseudonym for Marius Roodt, a researcher at Centre for Development Enterprise, who wanted to prove his theory that there was a lack of fact checking in South African media. He resigned from the CGE once his identity was revealed by the Huffington Post. The post was also removed.

The Press Ombudsman Johan Retief ordered HuffPost SA to apologise to the public for publishing the ''racist and sexist'' blog, which he found also incited hate speech.

An extract of Retief's findings reads: "I do not believe for one moment that such discriminatory ... opinions can be described as being in the public interest -- especially given this country's history of its struggle for liberation. To disenfranchise a section of the population once again would indeed represent a huge step backwards -- one that may have some serious unforeseen consequences."

He also criticised the HuffPost for publishing without having identified the author, saying this contributed to the erosion of public trust in the media.

Pillay resigned and Media24 apologised for the furore.

Ngoepe noted that Pillay's appeal was out of the permitted time to do so, but he condoned it and would deal with objections to this during the appeal.

"I am of the view that she has demonstrated reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Panel; the application should, therefore, be granted."

Ngoepe noted that the ombud's ruling had aroused huge public interest in freedom of speech, and urged that a copy of his decision to grant leave to appeal be sent to all the original complainants which include Dr Christopher McCreanor and Mr Shean King, so that they can submit heads of argument or join the appeal proceedings should they wish to do so.

The SA National Editors Forum also applied to be admitted as amicus curiae. The parties involved could respond and say whether they should be admitted, and this would be decided at the appeal.