Carte Blanche calls out false claims that Mel Viljoen "triumphed" in an appeal against dismissed application for protection order against producer Catherine Barry
In a Dubai Daily article, published on 26 November 2023, entitled "Mel Viljoen Secures Victory in Appeal Against Catherine Innes Barry of Carte Blanche", the author states, amongst other claims, that Mel Viljoen (Viljoen) "triumphed in a notice of appeal against Catherine Innes Barry", that Catherine Barry (Barry) "admitted to trespassing when she forcefully entered Mel Viljoen's office" and that the "extended presence was deemed, under 'trait law' (sic), a form of harassment". Further, the article refers to the defamation lawsuit, filed by Viljoen against Barry and the allegation that Barry's attorneys, Webber Wentzel, conceded that Barry was permitted to "engage in harassment to obtain a story".
On 26 November 2023, these claims were republished in Instagram stories by Viljoen, and her ex-lawyer husband Peet Viljoen, with both individuals thereby endorsing the claims as being truthful. The claims made in the Dubai Daily article were further reported on by The South African on 27 November 2023, in an article entitled "'RHOPTA' star Mel Viljoen wins court battle against 'Carte Blanche' producer.
Carte Blanche wishes to clarify that the claims made by these publications and the Viljoens are entirely false and have the effect of misleading the public and defaming Barry and Carte Blanche.
On 21 November 2023, the Magistrates Court, for the District of Tshwane Central, sitting as the Harassment Court, dismissed Viljoen's application for a protection order in terms of section 9 of the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011. In the judgment, received on 27 November 2023, the Magistrate ruled:
- the evidence placed before the court was sufficient to satisfy the Magistrate that there was merit in investigating the allegations against Viljoen;
- the Magistrate held that Viljoen's right to privacy could never trump the right of freedom of the press / media;
- Barry acted at all relevant times in the scope of her employment as an investigative journalist;
- Viljoen made various allegations which were unsubstantiated;
- there was no concrete evidence that Barry was the cause of any harm suffered by Viljoen or that Barry has a vendetta against Viljoen;
- the presence of Barry and her crew at Viljoen's workplace cannot be considered to be loitering or harassment as they were present with the objective of investigating the allegations against Viljoen;
- the information gathered by Barry was broadcast on Carte Blanche for the public to see and it was in the public interest; and
- if there was any harassment from Barry, it was not unreasonable and for the purposes of detecting an offence.
Attorneys for Carte Blanche and Barry, Webber Wentzel, were present at the Harassment Court on 27 November 2023 and were informed that no notice of appeal had been filed by Viljoen at the Harassment Court or the Magistrates Court in Pretoria, as reported. No notice of appeal has been received by Barry, Carte Blanche or Webber Wentzel either and Viljoen's attorneys of record in the matter have since withdrawn as her attorneys. Therefore, it is untrue and misinformation to claim that there was a "groundbreaking decision" in favour of Viljoen or that Viljoen triumphed in this case, when her application was appropriately dismissed, and no notice of appeal was ever delivered or filed. It is also plainly wrong in law to state that a party triumphed in a "notice of appeal" over another party, especially before the appeal has even been heard. This claim resembles Mel and Peet Viljoens' claims in 2022 where they falsely alleged that they had obtained an interim protection order against Barry, when in fact Viljoen had filed an application for a protection order – now dismissed.
In summary, at no point in the judgment did the Magistrate find that Barry's presence was "deemed, under 'trait law' (sic), a form of harassment" or trespass.
In respect of Viljoen's defamation lawsuit against Barry, this lawsuit was filed on 25 November 2022 as Viljoen claimed that she had been defamed due to wrongful and defamatory statements made by Barry. This was disputed and these claims were denied in the plea filed by Catherine Barry on 9 February 2023. Viljoen has not taken any further steps to progress the matter since February 2023, Barry has filed a counterclaim against Viljoen for R200,000.00 and her argument is that Viljoen wrongfully and intentionally violated her privacy by sending South African Police Service members to her private address to deliver the application for a protection order.
Barry's triumph in this case is a clear indication that she, and Carte Blanche, conducted themselves ethically, responsibly and within the scope of investigative journalism. Further, the victory and judgment highlight that applications of this nature cannot be used to silence and intimidate journalists.