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Court Punishes Malawi News: Told To Pay UTM’s Richard Makondi Millions For Defamation

Awarded: Makondi (Right)

The High Court in Blantyre has awarded damages totaling 11.5 million kwacha to senior UTM member, Richard Makondi, for defamation against Blantyre Print for an article that was written in Malawi News.

The ruling was made by High Court registrar, C H Msokera on October 12 this month.

In his assessment, Msokera said Malawi News readers were on 12th November 2016 salivated to feast on what was purported to be apolitical scandal with a screaming headline “DPP putting pressure on Mahuka to pay” including a pictorial focus on its front page which in essence presented Makondi, who by that time was DPP’s Organizing Secretary, as a fraudulent person involved in a 4 billion kwacha fraud at ESCOM.

Reads part of his ruling: “In assessing damages for defamation, the court should take into account the following factors: the content of the article, the nature and extent of the publication including the aspect of republication of the defamatory matter, the plaintiff’s standing, his reputation, character and status, the nature of the defamation, the probable consequence of the defamation, the conduct of the defendant from the time of publication of the defamation to the time of judgement, recklessness of the publication and comparable awards in other defamation suits and the declining value of money,”

He added that the newspaper published the article deliberately with intent to sell more copies and increase its circulation without regard to the fact that the reputation of the claimants would be damaged.

“The article was deliberately published in the expectation of increasing circulation and profit of the defendant’s paper by taking advantage of the sensitivity of the matter, the curiosity which it would raise among the public given that the matter involved a ruling party and the high standing nature of the claimants. This led to an increased circulation resulting into increased revenue for the defendant,” Msokera said.

He further contended that whereas the publication of the article and its contents may have helped the publishers to increase the circulation of their publication, the same action [of publishing the article] caused pain and suffering to the claimants.

“The claimants have further testified of the negative repercussions the article has on their lives. The 1st claimant laments of being shunned by his actual and potential business partners as they view him as fraudulent person.

He regrets that even his political career has hit a snag as he failed to contest for any position at UTM convention due to people’s perceptions created by the defendant,” reads part of the determination.

Makondi: Has every reason to smile

Msokera asserted that the conduct of the publisher deserves significant condemnation which must be reflected in the amount of damages awarded to the 1st claimant (Makondi), particularly based on the fact that the publishers did not bother to retract the story or issue an apology to the claimants.

The 2nd claimant in the same lawsuit, which was made through lawyer Joseph Kamkwasi, was former Finance Director at ESCOM, Betty Mahuka, who the article alleged was being pressurized by DPP to irregularly authorize payment.

She has since been awarded 8,000,000 (Eight Million Kwacha) by Msokera for injury to her reputation.

“I agree with counsel’s submission as to why an award of significant value should be given in the present matter. With the relatively comparable cases in mind and also not losing sight to the current value of Malawi kwacha, I deem it appropriate to make the following awards of damages for libel on aggravated basis: MK11, 500,000.00 for the 1st claimant and MK8, 000,000.00 for the 2nd claimant,” Msokera ordered, adding that the defendant will bear the cost of the proceedings.

In his brief reaction to the ruling, Makondi said he is happy with the High Court determination because it should be a lesson to others to desist from the habit of just waking up and decide to scandalize and damage the personal reputation of other people.

“It is just not right to go to the public with a narrative about other people without cross-checking with them for accuracy of facts. I hope this will deter the publication and others from engaging in similar behavior in future,” said Makondi.

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