Media: Court rules out attempt to silence newspaper

The principal of a Free State college has failed in her bid to gag the Sunday Times from publishing a story on her controversial use of the title ‘professor’, says a report in the newspaper. Free State High Court (Bloemfontein) Judge Celeste Reinders dismissed with costs an application by Marianna Phutsisi, head of the Motheo Technical & Vocational Education & Training College. The Sunday Times says it established that Phutsisi uses the title of professor in all her official correspondence after she was ‘conferred’ with the title of ‘honorary professor’ by the Academic Union Oxford (AUO) in the UK in December 2018.

The AUO is owned by Europe Business Assembly (EBA), which is known for ‘selling fake degrees’, according to overseas media reports. It does not have any links with Oxford University. A probe by matric exams quality assurer Umalusi found she should not use the title. Phutsisi argued the story would prejudice her right to a fair public hearing in a pending defamation case she had instituted against a third party. Counsel for the newspaper, Ben Winks, said the EBA had been exposed as ‘an obscure Ukrainian-owned enterprise’ run from a house ‘that happens to be in Oxford’. He said the ‘question looms large … who paid for the award?’. Phutsisi’s lawyer, Lebohang Mokhele, said she was paying the legal costs from her own pocket. Reinders said Phutsisi had failed to prove there was a real risk of prejudice to her right to a fair public hearing in her defamation case.

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