Manto reports in public interest

Ido Lekota

Ido Lekota

The saga around Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang yesterday took another turn with media experts coming out in support of the Sunday Times.

The experts yesterday concurred with Sunday Times that publishing allegations about Tshabalala-Msimang's misdemeanours was in the public interest.

Yesterday Southern Africa Report editor Raymond Louw said the publishing of allegations that a public figure such as Tshabalala-Msimang had acted in an unacceptable manner was in the public interest.

"It is unacceptable behaviour for the minister to abuse the treatment she received as a patient," said Louw.

Former Sowetan editor and well-known media expert Joe Latakgomo said "the state of health of a senior government official, more so that of a health minister, is of public interest".

Latakgomo said allegations that Tshabalala-Msimang had smuggled drinks "into a hospital of all the places, must surely be of national interest, more so because she is minister of health".

Recently, Sunday Times published reports about how Tshabalala-Msimang had abused alcohol while she was admitted at Medi-Clinic in Cape Town.

The newspaper also said Tshabalala-Msimang was an alcoholic who ought not to have been given a liver transplant.

It also published a story revealing that Tshabalala-Msimang had been found guilty of stealing a patient's watch while working as superintendent of a hospital in Botswana.

On Friday, Tshabalala-Msimang launched an urgent application against the newspaper to have her "stolen" medical reports returned. She also asked for an interdict prohibiting the newspaper from publishing any further stories or "comments" about her medical condition.

On Monday, Sunday Times filed an answering affidavit, arguing that its stories and comment were in the public interest.

The newspaper also argued that the extent to which "alcohol abuse" could have affected Tshabalala-Msimang's performance as a minister, was also of public interest.

On Monday, the ANC caucus invoked provisions of the National Health Act to argue that allegations against Tshabalala-Msimang were invasions of privacy.

The act prohibits people from making public medical records of other individuals without their consent.

However, there is an exclusion to the effect that the prohibition cannot apply in instances where nondisclosure could lead to a serious health threat.