Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Minister mulls suing Sunday Standard over accurate article

Showing up in parliament still in a foul mood, the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi, wanted the Gaborone North MP, Haskins Nkaigwa, to clarify whether he had indeed said things that he was quoted as saying in an article in last week’s edition of Sunday Standard.

The said article quotes Nkaigwa as saying that Kgathi and a cabinet colleague of his, Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Thapelo Olopeng, had taken selfies with Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources students and that upon return to parliament, bore “love-bite” marks. Kgathi wanted the MP to confirm that he had indeed made such remarks. Interestingly, all he had to do was consult the Hansard for the day in question. Accusing MPs of being in the habit of conniving with journalists, Kgathi referred to an incident in the past when he claimed P100 000 against Mmegi in compensatory damages for an article that defamed him.

Nkaigwa had indeed said what Sunday Standard quoted him as saying. More importantly though, the article made it very clear that he was merely joking by referring to his remarks as “an extended stand-up comedy routine.” The Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi, himself confirmed that Nkaigwa had been merely joking. In what should have been evident to every reader, the story mirrored the light-hearted tone of Nkaigwa’s statement. For decades now, MPs on both sides of the aisle exchange what can often be over-the-top jokes. The article’s editorialisation highlighted the over-the-top element with commentary that frowned upon making a family man the object of such joke.

Olopeng came to Sunday Standard’s defence, saying that “the newspaper is not wrong per se.” Actually, the newspaper was not wrong period. It had merely repeated an unseemly joke Nkaigwa made in an open forum that has since been reproduced in a public document that is now part of Botswana’s parliamentary history. Olopeng asked the Speaker to lift such immunity so that they could sue Nkaigwa for defamation. However, whatever they say in the house, MPs are immune from prosecution and so Nkaigwa is fully protected. Olopeng’s request was rejected.

It would seem that cabinet ministers and some senior government officials have an expectation that the media should not report certain information that is in the public domain. This may have to do with the fact that they want to choreograph all journalism in the country. Years ago, Neo Motlhabane, a now deceased opposition leader in Molepolole referred to then president Festus Mogae with an unflattering cultural term at the Molepolole kgotla. Then area MP and Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Daniel Kwelagobe, took offence when Midweek Sun reproduced Motlhabane’s words. After the story came out, it somehow happened that a whole news item on Btv featured Kwelagobe venting his displeasure about the reproduction of words that were said at a public meeting by a senior opposition leader. Last year, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry, Peggy Serame, asked Sunday Standard to retract and apologise for a story that merely quoted a High Court judgement. For good measure, she made a thinly veiled litigation threat on behalf of the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Vincent Seretse Seretse, who was the subject of that judgement. While the Court of Appeal would later exonerate the minister, the paper’s earlier reporting was a true reflection of what a High Court judgment said.

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