Seasoned journalist Charles Etukuri, who works with the New Vision, a government owned newspaper, is in deep trouble after court ruled that he defamed Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Gen. Severino Kahinda Otafiire.
Buganda Road court ruled on Tuesday that Etukuri defamed Gen. Otafiire when he and the New Vision, which is headed by Robert Kabushenga as Chief Executive Officer, published a story indicating that the Minister had allegedly grabbed government land at Njeru Stock Farm.
As result of the ruling made by
Justice Andrew K Bashaija, Etukuri and New Vision have been asked to cough a whopping Shs150M in damages and compensation to Otafiire.
Justice Bashaija concurred with arguments raised by Otafiire’s lawyers in his suit No. 44 of 2019, in which he accused New Vision of defamation when it reported that he had allegedly used his clout as a Minister to take over Njeru Stock Farm land, yet it belongs to government.
The Judge noted that it was defamatory for New Vision to portray Otafiire as a grabber of government land yet he has a title of ownership for the same land registered in his name.
Etukuri, in his affidavit, had averred that this claim against Otafiire had been raised by fellow Minister Joy Kabatsi and even by other people during inquiries conducted by Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire’s Land Commission.
The journalist submitted that all this information could be combined to entitle the newspaper to the defense of privilege.
However, Justice Bashaija wasn’t convinced that Etukuri and New Vision had substantive defense to diminish the publisher’s liability.
New Vision’s lawyers also pleaded the defense of fair comment in that they contacted Otafiire on phone and he denied the accusations and his clarification was published as part of the impugned stories, but the Judge refused to consider that either.
Court also noted that the newspaper complicated the case even more when they stopped at Etukuri’s affidavit without engaging their legal team to file any written submissions as part of their defense.
Basing on the above flaws, Justice Byabashaija agreed with the plaintiff’s lawyers and the witnesses, among them Minister Mwesigwa Rukutana and businessman Wilfred Bugingo, who, in their submissions asserted that Etukuri’s stories defamed Otafiire.
The testified in court that as right- thinking members of society, they felt his reputation had been tainted and lowered, given the fact that he is a senior Minister and Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF).
In his ruling, Justice Byabashaija awarded Gen Otafiire Shs100m in general damages as compensation for the defamation.
Court also awarded him Shs50m as exemplary damages to ensure the wide-circulating New Vision never publishes defamatory articles against him again, since there was an injunction issued in 2006 barring the newspaper from publishing anything about him. The award attracts an interest of 8% per annum.