Children of Fire Trust served a Combined Summons on e-tv (pty) limited and on television presenter Debora Patta in the South Gauteng High Court, Witwatersrand Local Division, following the defamation of the burns charity in August and December 2006. e-tv and Patta had until 13 August 2009 to serve notice to defend.
They did so and the matter was scheduled to be heard on 11th August 2011. As the charity's original attorneys were unable to continue with the matter, the case was taken off the roll and a new date will have to be applied for in 2012.
Children of Fire Trust claims that it has lost donations and suffered damages to a value of more than R3 million.
The charity is represented by Advocate Noel Graves, Advocate Matthew Welz and Webber Wentzel attorneys.
Children of Fire Trust initially took its complaint to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA).
The trustees were informed that if they pursued a BCCSA complaint, they would have to sign a waiver not to later pursue a civil claim.
Debbie Ng, a volunteer media researcher for the Trust, said: "We looked at the track record of the BCCSA adjudications and felt that it did not take a strong enough stance when the broadcast media erred.
"The Trust decided in the interest of justice, that a civil action would be lodged."
There is a three year statute of limitations in which a claim for defamation may be brought before the courts.
Children of Fire claims that it was enormously damaged by the e-tv programmes, but it hoped that the problem would abate with the passage of time.
As it became clear that the negative effects of the defamation would persist even years after the first of three linked defamatory programmes, the charity decided to seek legal redress.
Updates on the case may be carried on Twitter on ChildrenOfFire and on other Twitter entities that have shown an interest in the case. Comments made with hashtag #BattleForFairPress link to the broader campaign that acknowledges the persistent harm to individuals and organisations from cavalier or malicious journalism.
Children of Fire supports Freedom of Expression. But with rights go responsibilities.
Always do more good than harm. Always acknowledge the potential for your actions to cause harm and think before you edit or air an interview. Remember the right to privacy. Remember the right to dignity.
Response to Defamation - Information for people who care.
The core of this defamation is the product of a television programme made in 2006, which inaccurately depicted the charity and some of its volunteers - some of whom have dedicated their lives, or a portion of their lives, to helping disadvantaged and disabled people across Africa. This 'ambush journalism' was put together purely to entertain, rather than to represent the truth of what the charity does and how it functions. Anybody who knows the charity, its volunteers and children, knows that the accusations made were false and absurd. The people who made the programme wanted to make an exciting show, without considering the consequences of their actions or the direct harm they caused to people's lives. The damage to the charity was detrimental to the children and to the many projects they initiate. Since the show was aired on television in 2006, a number of sponsors went silent, fundraising events were cancelled and educational projects stopped. What is most hurtful and hardest to understand, is that people hear of these accusations and believe them without verifying with Children of Fire first. The defamation still continues, with some people illegally producing copies of that programme and sending it to potential sponsors and partners, for reasons best known to themselves.
This is not an uncommon problem in charity circles. Numerous non-governmental organisations have experienced the same unfair criticism about their organisations and subsequently been forced to close or to reduce the good work they do. South Africa is a developing nation with a government that cannot always provide assistance to the people in need; the nation and its continent benefit from the help of charities. Children of Fire's field of work is unique across the continent.
It is incomprehensible why individuals go out of their way to harm charities and the people who benefit from their existence, but it is a reality which happens all too often. Those in the firing line working in charities can either throw in the towel, or choose to ignore the criticism and focus on the greater good; this is a very difficult thing to do. Children of Fire is a small charity which receives no financial help from government, yet achieves many great things (as evident on the website). The charity is always under immense pressure with an impossible workload and not enough skilled volunteers prepared to stay long term. To receive criticism such as that done towards Children of Fire, or to be vindictively attacked by dubious characters, can be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
This is a message to all those who are interested in what we do, are thinking of volunteering or donating, or who have an idea for research or a project. You may be told stories about us that are not true, and we kindly ask that you investigate the allegations and see our organisation first-hand before casting judgment. Despite what these people say, if you meet us you will see that we are genuine and we care. We achieve miracles for the children that we help.
For more information please speak to Achieng Candice Kola, Mitta Lebaka or Rosie Chirongoma on +27 (0)11 726 6529 or email firstname.lastname@example.org