Mixed martial arts boss sues 'citizen journalist' for R200,000 for defamation

Mixed Martial Arts SA president Bertus Coetzee has claimed Alastair Bishop’s statements about him on the Big Al Podcast and Facebook had negatively affected his business in Cape Town.
Mixed Martial Arts SA president Bertus Coetzee has claimed Alastair Bishop’s statements  about him on the Big Al Podcast and Facebook had negatively affected his business in Cape Town.
Image: Facebook/Mixed Martial Arts SA

The president of Mixed Martial Arts SA (MMASA), which regulates all forms of the sport, including EFC contests, is claiming R200,000 in damages from a podcaster for allegedly defamatory comments.

Bertus Coetzee has claimed Alastair Bishop’s statements about him on the Big Al Podcast and Facebook had negatively affected his metal works business in Cape Town.

Bishop said he is doing his duty as a citizen journalist, and claimed MMASA has consistently failed to make its financial statements public. He questioned what MMASA had done with the affiliation fees paid by gyms, which were struggling.

Coetzee told TimesLIVE he had never taken a cent from the organisation’s coffers since becoming president in 2013, adding that directorships were not paid positions. 

“I’ve actually spent my money on the body. I don’t have access to MMASA’s accounts. We need three signatures,” he said.

He said the body’s books were in order and he was happy for them to be made public.

In a letter dated June 12, Coetzee’s lawyer, Dewald Terblanche, claimed Bishop had used derogatory terms when referring to Coetzee and another MMASA director.

“The  statements are wrongful and unlawful, and published with malicious intent to humiliate, degrade and insult our client,” Terblanche wrote.

He said the posts “incited no less than 26 comments from others who purported to endorse these insulting remarks”.

“As a direct result of your unlawful and wrongful statements, our client’s business’s Facebook page received more than 10 new views within an hour of the comments being made, and clients and friends of our client contacted him to inquire about the veracity of these slanderous and defamatory comments.”

Terblanche said Bishop’s comments had had a negative effect on Coetzee’s business. 

“Some of its customers have now expressly placed orders and jobs on hold pending our client proving he is not a thief or person with poor morals or integrity.”

Coetzee’s lawyer demanded an unconditional apology and that the post in question be removed within 24 hours.

He said: “It has come to our attention that this is not the first instance where you have made malicious, slanderous and/or defamatory comments about our client.

“Our client has suffered damages to his dignity and reputation amounting to R200,000.”

He demanded Bishop pay within seven days.

Bishop responded through his lawyer, Stephen May, who described his client as a citizen journalist performing the role of the media in combat sports and MMA.

As a non-profit organisation, MMASA was required, among other things, to reflect its registration number on all documents, keep full accounting records and draw up financial statements, May said.

“I am instructed that there is a long-standing and growing public perception and concern that MMASA have failed, alternatively neglected, alternatively refused, to comply with the objects and requirements of the NPO Act; make available for public inspection its financial records; and to fulfil its stated purpose of advancing the common interest of its constituent members,” May wrote in a letter dated June 26.

“This perception and concern did not originate with my client but has been growing for a number of years, discussed publicly by many people within the South African MMA community, and has formed the subject of several disputes between MMASA and a wide range of parties and stakeholders, from MMA gyms to organisations which promote MMA competition for public spectatorship.”

May said Bishop had previously offered Coetzee the right of reply on his podcast.

“Your client [Coetzee] declined this opportunity and my client was instead referred to another member of MMASA’s board, who himself confirms that he has never seen nor had access to the financial documents.”

Coetzee denied receiving a request from Bishop to appear on his podcast.

“He has never sent me an invitation,” he told TimesLIVE.

In the letter May said Bishop was prepared to offer Coetzee another opportunity to appear on his podcast, but Coetzee told TimesLIVE he would not accept.


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