THE Lusaka High Court has directed the Post Newspapers to pay up to K40,000 in damages in a case of defamation involving a civil servant.
This is a matter in which Post Newspapers journalist Roy Habalu was sued together with the tabloid on defamation charges by Abel Mkandawire, who lost his job following a story authored and published by the newspaper.
Lusaka High Court judge Justice Mungeli Mulenga said there was improper motive in the publication that was clearly indifferent to the truth and did not care if the allegations were true or not.
She said the allegations against Mr Mkandawire were apparent rumours without evidence to support them.
“I further find that there was malice or improper motive for the publication in that the defendants were clearly indifferent to the truth and did not care whether the statements from the alleged source were true or not.
‘‘This is motive other than that of furthering the public interest,” Ms Justice Mulenga said.
She said punitive damages have been added to the compensatory damages to act as a deterrent to punish the newspaper and its agents over the aggravated damages herein factored by their action. The High Court has explained that based on the facts presented before it, the Post Newspaper even failed to make amends by a suitable apology and did not verify the information with Mr Mkandawire.
“I note that there was no apology tendered to the plaintiff despite him demanding the same from the defendants.
‘‘Generally, an apology expunges the damages arising out of any defamation even where it is tendered late,” she explained.
The judge said the duty was on the defendants to prove fair or objective comments referred to in the article, but failed to point specific words which constituted fair comment.
Mr Mkandawire was alleged to have been involved in an electoral scandal attributed to the ruling party then, the MMD, during the 2011 tripartite elections.
In his legal suit he complained that the article had caused his suspension from work as an assistant accountant stationed at the Western Province administration office in Mongu.
Ms Justice Mulenga directed that the damages should bear simple interest at the average in short term deposit rate from date of writ to date of judgment, and thereafter at Bank of Zambia average lending rate till payment in full.