SAA clips media's wings on leaked Mpshe memo
South African Airways (SAA) brought an urgent interdict in the early hours of Tuesday morning to curb several media outlets from publishing the contents of a leaked memo dated 6 November 2015 to the SAA board from former acting CEO Thuli Mpshe.
The memo was an internal memo prepared by the head of legal, risk and compliance at SAA, Ursula Fikelepi, to the board of the airline.
The interdict was too late to stop Business Day newspaper from publishing the article in its print edition on Tuesday morning, but the respondents - BDFM Publishers, Moneyweb Holdings and Media24 Holding - were ordered to "remove all references to the opinion including all or any of the contents of the opinion that has already been published on the internet and social media".
Fin24's sister publication City Press published an article referring to the contents of the memo on Sunday already, but it has since been edited to comply with the court order.
In SAA’s court papers, the airline argues that the memo in question is "legal advice that is privileged from disclosure" and should therefore not be published.
In an affidavit to halt publishing the memo's contents, Fikelepi explains that she was requested by exco on 29 October to provide a legal opinion to the SAA board.
Her advice, which was “sought in confidence”, related to the legal risks and implications resulting from correspondence between SAA and Airbus GIE.
The correspondence, dated 2 and 26 October 2015, related to a potential dispute between SAA and Airbus over a transaction related to the purchase and swop of Airbus aircraft.
She describes the memo as "highly confidential information of a very sensitive nature", which could have "the potential of causing real and serious reputational and financial damage to the applicant and the government of the RSA".
Mpshe, who held the CEO position on a temporary basis for less than four months, was last week replaced by Musa Zwane, former head of the state-owned carrier’s maintenance unit.
Zwane is the seventh permanent or acting CEO at SAA in less than four years, if Nico Bezuidenhout’s two stints in the position are counted separately. Mpshe replaced Bezuidenhout when he returned to his role as head of the company’s low-cost unit Mango.
Andrew Trench, editor-in-chief of 24.com, said the group believes that the material which is subject to the court’s gagging order is of profound public interest to taxpayers who ultimately fund SAA’s continued existence.
“We are of the opinion that this interim order will not be made final and we will oppose any move to make that so.”