By: Andrew Kathindi
Billionaire Harvey Boulter has threatened legal action against a number of local news publications in relation to how he has been covered in the media following his arrest last year, a move which has raised questions of media freedom.
Boulter was arrested and charged with murder in relation to a fatal shooting incident which led to the demise of his then farm manager, Gerhard van Wyk in February on his farm in Outjo. Boulter was later released on N$500 000 bail.
Following his release, Boulter led a legal crusade against local media houses for the way they have covered him, particularly against claims that he demanded sexual favours from van Wyk’s daughter-in-law, prior to the shooting.
Windhoek Observer reported the threat in an article that has since been removed from their website.
In a letter to the Windhoek Observer editor in possession of The Villager, Boulter said that the publication has “published a number of stories that are one sided, highly defamatory and have been debunked. There are a number of allegations in the articles that are totally wrong and as a result we require that it be removed immediately. For example, there was never any suggestion of a ‘sex for anything’ arrangement. This article gives rise to a potential claim for significant damages.”
He further claimed that he had approached other local publications with similar demands, such as the Namibian, the Namibian Sun, the Republikein, the Informante as well as the Times London, as they contemplate the possibility of a UK High Court Libel suit.
“I am a British citizen, and this content has been made available online in the UK and therefore the UK High Court will have jurisdiction – this is meant only as a statement of fact.”
“To be clear, I am asking that these stories be taken down, as a proposed settlement and that you at the least consider republication of the Daily Mail piece above to set the record straight.”
When contacted for comment, Boulter told The Villager that he has been in touch with the editors of the Windhoek Observer and they are on a path to resolving the dispute.
Quizzed on the status of his qualms with other local media houses, he said, “I don’t have a dispute with any of the other media houses, the matter has been resolved. When you have a dispute, the proper process is to try and resolve it in a proper manner with that publication.”
Quizzed further on what the nature of his dispute was, Boulter said, “You’re not working for a publication where I have any dispute with, so I think it will be inappropriate to comment. Some of those things around this case will become clear as the case progresses. In relation to any dispute with a media outlet, it’s a private matter, until it’s not.”
Windhoek Observer editor Kuvee Kangueehi said that it was not a case of media being bullied by the rich as anyone has a right to seek legal action where they feel wronged.
“He has a right to complain, if he feels unfairly reported. Everyone has a legal right. It’s not bullying, as such. Anyone has a right to engage and find a solution.”
“Maybe, poor people, because they don’t appear in newspapers, they don’t sue that much. It’s always the rich and the powerful that appear in newspapers, so if they complain about something, you cannot say it’s bullying. If they have a legitimate complain, let’s look at that. Let’s not bully them also.”
Kangueehi further told The Villager that there were things in that publications articles that Boulter was not happy with and wants corrected and they are busy sorting out.
“I think it’s that element of the sex claim. If you look at the Daily Mail and other newspapers, there is that issue of whether he made sexual advances to the wife of Gerhard junior or not. That he is not happy with. He claims that there is no legal document that he made those sexual advances. I read article in the Daily Mail where he quotes an anonymous police officer of saying something. We’re still looking at that, to establish from the police whether there is something of that sort.”
He further said that at this point, it had not yet reached the point of being a legal claim.
The editor of the Namibian newspaper, Tangeni Amupadhi said that he was not aware of Boulter approaching the daily with a complaint on how he has been covered, but in general, “Certain individuals try to use their financial muscle to bully people into not expressing themselves or be critical about issues that affect society. That’s the unfortunate thing but it’s the reality.”
Editor of the Namibian Sun Toivo Ndjebela confirmed that Boulter also approached the publication with complaints over how the publication covered the events related to his arrest.
He said that his publication had reproduced content from the UK outfit, the Daily Mail, and hence had to remove those particular articles as, he says, they did not feel they could defend them in court.
“Our own articles are still online. We agreed and disagreed with Boulter to say on this particular one, we stand by what we have written and where we do not have enough substantive facts, especially in regards to what transpired that night, we agreed to amend. For example, the allegation that Boulter made sexual advances towards the wife of one of his employees.”
He said the paper did not have substantive proof that this occurred and hence had to amend it.
“Media freedom is important, but so is fairness. There will always be individuals that want to bully the press, people who come and make threats of legal action. We don’t fear those ones. I always tell my team, if you get your facts right, you can sleep peacefully.”
Director of Namibia Media Trust, Zoe Titus said that she was not aware of the matter, but said individuals who are aggrieved with how they have been covered in the media can approach the media Ombudsman.