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Joost's application to stop book dismissed

2013-10-04 10:03
Joost van der Westhuizen
Pretoria - Former Springbok rugby player Joost van der Westhuizen's urgent application to stop the publication and distribution of a tell-all book about him was dismissed with costs on Friday.

Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann said Van der Westhuizen had not established any right to such drastic inroads into freedom of expression, in a judgment handed down in the High Court in Pretoria.

Van der Westhuizen took celebrity reporter Gavin Prins and publishers Random House Struik to court after realising that Prins's book titled Joost & Amor was about to hit the shelves.

Although Prins refused to give him an advance copy of the book, Van der Westhuizen felt it would infringe his right to privacy, dignity and life.

He said the hype surrounding the book would cause severe stress which could harm his already compromised health.

Actively courted the limelight

Van der Westhuizen suffers from motor neuron disease, a fatal illness which has already confined him to a wheelchair and has severely affected his speech and movement.

Prins, now a deputy editor at Heat magazine, said the book did not contain anything that was not already in the public domain and the only singular feature of the book was his private perspectives on the couple.

Judge Bertelsmann said there was no allegation on the papers that the book contained lies and it must be concluded that Van der Westhuizen was trying to suppress the truth.

He said prior restraint of a publication could only be granted in extraordinary circumstances because it was a drastic interference in freedom of speech.

It should only be ordered if there was a grave risk of substantial injustice.

Van der Westhuizen and his estranged wife, entertainer Amor Vittone, had over the past 10 years actively courted the limelight and deliberately revealed their private lives to the media and the public at large.

He rightly enjoyed the adulation that came with being a rugby player of extraordinary talent.

He had himself shared the darkest moments of his life with the public in his autobiography following the revelation of a so-called sex video which connects him to drug use.

His struggles to redeem himself had been widely covered by the media.

No evidence

When tragedy struck in the form of illness, he shared and still shared his daily battle to cope and his attempts to reach out to others suffering from the illness with the public, Bertelsmann said.

"The applicant falls into the category of celebrities that can no longer expect that their private lives remain private because they themselves have made it public," he said.

He said the facts of Van der Westhuizen's life and illness were well known and he could not complain if it was repeated in another publication.

Bertelsmann said there was no exceptional evidence to support Van der Westhuizen's claim that his health would suffer if publication of the book went ahead.

There was no evidence that the neurologist who filed a report stating that stress would make Van der Westhuizen's condition worse had examined him before drawing up the report and he therefore did not qualify as an expert witness.

He had failed to establish a grave and direct threat to his health, the judge said.

Right to freedom of speech

Van der Westhuizen's reliance on privacy was also negated by his own past actions.

"The applicant has rightfully earned the respect and esteem flowing from his past achievements.

"He is entitled to understanding and empathy (...) He is entitled to support even in the aftermath of scandal.

"He is to be admired for the way in which he is dealing with his devastating illness and reaching out to others.

"...But he is not entitled to stop publication of the book (...) because he invited the media to share his life," the judge said.

He said there was no question that the publication was of significant importance to Prins and the publishers and to the fundamental right to freedom of expression.


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