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Karyn Maughn on Zuma and why she refuses to be bullied into silence

CapeTalk logo CapeTalk 2023/03/26
Journalist Qaanitah Hunter with Karyn Maughan outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court. © Provided by CapeTalk Journalist Qaanitah Hunter with Karyn Maughan outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

Journalists should report the story, and never be the story.

That old saying has holds no truth for well-known South African journalist Karyn Maughn, who's face has been splashed across newspapers and television news channels for the past few months.

From reporting on legal cases, Maughn now finds herself in the court dock - a central figure in one of the country's most pivotal cases - the Jacob Zuma corruption trial.

Along with prosecutor Billy Downer, she is facing a private prosecution by Zuma in the high court in Pietermaritzburg, an extraordinary case that impacts media freedom.

Zuma has accused Downer of leaking a report disclosing his medical condition to Maughn.

His legal team are arguing that the sharing of court papers by advocate Andrew Breytenbach amounts to a criminal violation of the NPA act.

In their counter-argument, Maughn and Downer claim the court papers are public documents and that provision only relates to information that is confidential.

Despite facing legal challenges and threats, Maughn remains committed to holding those in power accountable and for exposing malfeasance by public officials.

She's established herself as one of the leading voices in investigative journalism and is widely respected for her fearless reporting on complex legal cases and political corruption.

Catherine Rice was in conversation with Maughn about the high-profile Zuma case.

He's [Zuma] failed to remove Downer in a special pleas process and he's trying to force his removal through this criminal prosecution. With me, it's because I'm the last reporter left from the group who started from the very beginning of this case and I know the ins and outs. I'm able to report the inconsistencies and contradictions to the public, we're arguing puts me in the line of fire.

Karyn Maughan, News24 specialist legal journalist

New24 has firmly stood by Maughn and made a decision to keep her as its main reporter on Zuma's corruption trial, despite the legal case against her.

In the face of criticism by Zuma's supporters, Maughn has defended her position.

Our stance is that just like Billy Downer declined to step down from prosecution, I'm not going to stop reporting on this case. The general public is well aware I've been charged. If they feel there's an imbalance, they're right to raise these issues. But I've maintained my best efforts to report as cooly and calmly on facts that are within my knowledge and to have hope and faith in our court system to make the right decision.

Karyn Maughan, News24 specialist legal journalist

The obvious implications would be that if I am taken off the case, it may become a mechanism to get rid of problematic journalists by criminally charging them through private prosecutions. The implications of that for journalists in South Africa are truly terrifying.

Karyn Maughan, News24 specialist legal journalist

The media fraternity have slammed the prosecution as an attack on media freedom in South Africa, which has dangerous implications for journalists.

Journalists, particularly female journalists, find themselves the target of all kinds of intimidation and attack. The reality is that because of the state of law enforcement in this country, our colleagues are exposing the kind of things that should be investigated by the police.

Karyn Maughan, News24 specialist legal journalist

In a country with a dysfunctional and deeply corrupted law enforcement system, journalism is essential. How else do we get to the truth of things? To use private prosecution to silence a journalist on a baseless case cannot stand. And that's why we're fighting this hard.

Karyn Maughan, News24 specialist legal journalist

Scroll up for the full interview.

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