Narratives of past and present, freedom of expression and recognition – Justice Ngcobo’s judgment in Citizen 187 (Pty) Ltd v McBride


  • Meryl du Plessis University of Witwatersrand



defamation, fair comment, South African history, reconciliation, dignity, freedom of expression


This contribution examines the balance to be struck between freedom of expression on the one hand, and dignity on the other.  It does so through the lens of narratives of South Africa’s past and present in Citizen 187 (Pty) Ltd v McBride and a consideration of how narratives shape our construction of reality.  It is argued that the newspaper narratives about Mr McBride’s planting and detonation of a bomb in 1986 contain various omissions and half-truths, which impacts adversely on the media’s contribution to post-apartheid South Africa.  In particular, such media coverage mimimises Black persons’ realities in the past and present, which is an infringement of their dignity.  However, the law of defamation, it is argued, is not suited optimally to address the shortcomings in macro narratives of South African history advanced by the media.  The use of the law of defamation for that purpose may have the effect of stifling, unduly, conversations that are integral to national reconciliation. Alternative mechanisms through which to hold newspapers accountable may include complaints addressed to the Press Council, consumer activism and the creation of a plurality of voices within media spaces, both in terms of media ownership and the promotion of ideological diversity.  Ngcobo CJ’s judgment is therefore preferred, as it protects the media’s freedom of expression, while also emphasising the importance of the dignity of those who become media subjects. 


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How to Cite

du Plessis, Meryl. 2018. “Narratives of past and Present, Freedom of Expression and Recognition – Justice Ngcobo’s Judgment in Citizen 187 (Pty) Ltd V McBride”. Southern African Public Law 32 (1&2):18 pages.
Received 2017-11-30
Accepted 2017-12-06
Published 2018-08-06