Mmegi newspaper has reached an out of court settlement with Sametsi Ditshupo, a former General Manager of Business Development at Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) after High Court Judge Lakvindar Walia found the newspaper guilty of publishing a defamatory article against her.
Together with former BDC Managing Director Maria Ntebolan, Ditshupo had sued BDC for defamation over an article titled “Mysterious cash in BDC staff accounts” that was published on December 8th 2011. Ditshupo and Mmegi later reached a settlement agreement which was later made a court order. The Telegraph is informed that Nthebolan will soon reach a similar agreement with Mmegi as she has also filed a similar defamation case against the newspaper.
In the agreement, Mmegi undertook to pay Ditshupo P125, 000 as damages, publish an unconditional retraction of its article and remove the said article from its website.
In the article, Mmegi had revealed that Ditshupo received P304 676 from unknown sources. During the case, Ditshupo argued that the article published by Mmegi was defamatory, false and malicious as it implied that she had benefitted from unlawful activities. She further said the article had no basis as it was published without reference to her, but only to an inaccurate audit report compiled by ENS Forensics. Ditshupo demanded P1m as compensation for damages that she had suffered, saying she was particularly distressed by the Mmegi article as it suggested that “loot” had been deposited into her account. While Mmegi argued that the word “loot” could mean anything, Ditshupo said she understood it to mean that she had obtained money unlawfully. She further said she had never been summoned for a disciplinary hearing at BDC and she only left the company after the board rejected her application for a contract renewal.
In his ruling, Justice Walia found that Ditshupo was an honest and credible witness who had provided sufficient explanation for every relevant entry in her bank account, including the P304 676 that Mmegi suspected was ill gotten income. On the other hand, the Judge said Mmegi’s witness had been unreliable evasive and sometimes outright dishonest.
“Every time he was pushed into a corner, he sought to hide behind some perceived journalistic privilege. His contention that journalists are at liberty to break rules in the interest of the public interest is without any basis and outright irresponsible,” he said.
“I cannot see how any reasonable person can come to any conclusion but that in the course of her employment at BDC, Ditshupo amassed funds of dubious origin. Particularly galling and hurtful to her was the description of the funds in her account as loot,” said Walia.
Justice Walia also faulted Mmegi for publishing the contents of the forensic report without making an effort to seek authentication and justification of its contents.
“The defendants have failed to prove the truthfulness of the article, and what is not true can neither be in the public interest nor fair comment,” he said.