Ex-UCT music professor may sue SABC3

SUNDAY ARGUS

Reporter: Helen Bamford

BROADCASTER WAS FINED R80000.00

Former University of Cape Town music professor Graham Fitch, accused on television of sexually molesting under-age boys, is considering suing the public broadcaster. This comes after the SABC was fined R80000.00 over a Special Assignment two-part programme which the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa found was defamatory and not in the public interest. Fitch’s attorney Keith Gess told Weekend Argus there was a “good possibility” they would sue the SABC. By filing a complaint with the commission Fitch had waived his rights to a civil claim for the first and second programme, but Special Assignment had rebroadcast some of the material in a third programme linked to another story in December. “On that third broadcast we still have the right to claim.” Gess said the commission’s judgment gave a good indication of the decision a court might come to. “It could be a big claim because the programme affected his music career,” said Gess. They would also work out loss of earnings and the impairment to Firch’s dignity. Gess said the allegations had reached a worldwide public because of links on the internet. British-born Fitch was also accused on camera of having confessed to colleagues he was a crack addict and had used male prostitutes. In the judgment, commission chairman Kobus van Rooyen said: “The programmes were, indeed, unfair trials by the media. Despite the attempts of the producers to build up a case against Professor Fitch, the programmes lack what is fundamental to the notion of fairness: cross-examination of the two star witnesses, and evidence from Professor Fitch.” Soon after the Special Assignment programme was broadcast, UCT announced it had appointed a preliminary investigating committe to look into the matter and test the allegations. However, Fitch resigned from the College of Music before the committe met and left for England. In October, he told Weekend Argus he had agreed to appear on a TV programme about his music. But he was then asked on camera about his dealings with boys and fled, followed by the cameraman and two boys who claimed he had abused them. He told Weekend Argus that while his departure may have looked like a guilty flight, it was nothing of the sort. He said he had left because he was in fear of his life and no longer felt safe in Cape Town. Gess said Fitch was in London but had been back and forth to South Africa a few times. Gess has met the police several times and said there are no charges against Fitch. Fitch earlier said the case against him had been referred to the Sexual Offences Court’s senior prosecutor who had declined to prosecute him on any charges. At the time he said: “Investigations have taken place at the highest level, and the police are satisfied there is no reason to arrest me. I have no criminal record. I resigned my post at UCT as I could not imagine ever leading a normal life in Cape Town again.” Gess said that before proceeding with legal action they were waiting to see if the SABC was going to appeal the commission’s ruling. The SABC was not available for comment yesterday.