One of Malawi’s media giants, Times Group, has not yet complied to a high court decree that ordered it to publicly apologize to embattled former agriculture minister George Chaponda over defamatory articles it published in its newspapers between 2016 and 2017.
Chaponda, who is Mulanje South West parliamentarian, sued Times Group, through his lawyer Tamando Chokhotho, over a litany of articles that were published that he was mastermind in the purchase of maize from Zambia in 2016.
He was arrested on July 19 2017 alongside business-person Rashid Tayub of Transglobe Produce Limited and businessperson and chairperson of Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi (GTPA) Grace Mijiga-Mhango in connection with the Zambian maize procurement transaction.
The ex-diplomat fought the case – popularly referred to as maize-gate – in the courts on grounds that he did not in any way engage in corrupt dealings with the middlemen – Kaloswe – during the purchase process.
Following several court appearances and a commission inquiry into the issue, Chaponda was acquitted by the Zomba Magistrate Court in June 2020 but after he had been relieved of his portfolio as agriculture minister.
A high court ruling by Judge Dingiswayo Madise, on February 28, 2022, which we have seen, ordered Blantyre Newspapers Limited (Times Group) newspapers to apologise to Chaponda and withdraw the articles and that that should be published on the front pages of Times Newspapers within the next 10 days.
But as of Sunday, March 13, 2022 – exactly three days after the court-issued deadline – the media house had not complied to the order of publicly apologizing to the embattled minister.
The ruling, among others, urged the fair disbursement of media freedom.
Reads the judgement in part: “No one should injure the reputation of other people under the guise of fair comment and media freedom. I, therefore, order the defendants who authored those articles if still in employment to withdraw the articles so cited and apologise sincerely to the claimant on the front pages of all the papers involved in this case within 10 days.”
According to the judgement, the front page must not carry any other article apart from the apology ordered.
Adds the judgement: “The claimant is entitled to monetary damages and l order the registrar to assess damages taking into account the apology that the defendant will make. It is not in the interest of this court to order huge damages which will end up bankrupting the defendants.”
Madise’s judgement reminds the media that responsible media freedom was necessary in a democracy as it calls on public servants to account and that must be protected by the law and the courts.
However, it states that the defendants must pay the cost of their action.