The High Court in Johannesburg ruled on Thursday that Cell C’s case against a banner criticising its service is not urgent.
Judge Sharise Weiner found that the poster’s damage had already been done.
She also found that disgruntled client, businessman George Prokas, had alerted the network provider to his intention to erect the banner before it went up.
The apparently professionally printed banner, bearing the Cell C logo, was prominently displayed on a wall outside the WorldWear Mall on Beyers Naude Drive on November 6.
“The most useless service provider in SA – Cell C Sandton City,” it read.
It gave the name of the franchise manager and his phone number, and claimed he had said his “unnamed executive head refuses to assist the customer”.
The franchise manager submitted that the statement was defamatory.
However, Weiner found that in Prokas’s view, what he had put up was true.
She said criticism was protected as long as it held fair comment.
Weiner dismissed Cell C’s urgent application. “The application is not urgent,” she said.
The dispute arose when Prokas took a phone for his son with Cell C in 2013.
However, the phone’s number belonged to someone else, who had run up a bill of R5000 by the time Prokas ended the stop-order for the phone in October last year.
Prokas found out only when he was told he was listed as a bad debtor because of the unpaid R5000 when he tried to buy a car earlier in 2014.
He sought to have the bill waived by Cell C and to be removed from the list of bad debtors by the end of October this year.
When the situation had not changed by the end of October, Prokas threatened, in e-mail correspondence with Cell C, to put up the banner unless his complaints were dealt with.
He did so when his complaints were allegedly not dealt with.
Prokas indicated that he was not responsible for alterations to the banner made at the weekend, so it read: “Cell C the most useful cellular provider”. It is not known who altered the banner. SAPA