$150 000 lawsuit against NewsDay fails

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Group Editor-in-Chief Vincent-Kahiya

HARARE High Court judge Justice Erica Ndewere has dismissed, with costs, an application by former Kwekwe City Council health services director Alva Mandizvidza Senderayi, who was demanding $150 000 for defamation against the country’s leading independent daily newspaper NewsDay and its publishers Alpha Media Holdings (AMH).

BY CHARLES LAITON

AMH are publishers of NewsDay, Southern Eye, The Standard and Zimbabwe Independent.

In his application, Senderayi had cited NewsDay’s Midlands bureau reporter Blessed Mhlanga, AMH Group Editor-in-Chief Vincent Kahiya and AMH over an article titled Golden handshake for former director published by NewsDay four years ago.

Senderayi claimed that he had not been fired as alleged, adding that the article had defamed him.

But, commenting on the golden handshake issue, Justice Ndewere said if Kwekwe town clerk Emmanuel Musara had recommended such a package and there was an objection on the procedure of placing the item on the agenda only, the conclusion by the reporter in the article that Senderayi was set to receive “a golden handshake” could not be faulted.

“In my view, the article is not defamatory,” Justice Ndewere said. “As correctly pointed out by G Feltoe, A Guide to the Zimbabwean Law of Delict, 3rd edition on page 56: Put in the context of newspaper reporting, it is virtually important that there should be a free press that keeps the public informed, especially about public affairs.”

Justice Ndewere said Senderayi had been working for a public institution, funded by ratepayers.

As a result, when he got dismissed there were plans by the local authority to pay him an exit package and, therefore, the matter was in the public interest.

“The defendant (Mhlanga) had a duty to inform the public about this pending payment from public coffers. The article cannot be defamatory in that respect because it is true that the plaintiff was dismissed by the City of Kwekwe and at the time the article was written, the dismissal was about 10 years back,” the judge said.

Justice Ndewere further said the fact that Senderayi was challenging the dismissal did not mean that he was not dismissed.

“Even if he succeeds in getting his job back, in court that will be called a reinstatement confirming that he had been dismissed when the article was written, so the article was true in its respect and its publication was in the public interest since Kwekwe Council is a public institution,” she said.

Turning to the issue of the “fraudulent deal” remarks in the article, the judge said the statement referred to Musara and not Senderayi.

“This statement by councillors was about the integrity of the Kwekwe town clerk, a public official, in the exercise of his duties. So its publication was in the interest of the public,” the court said.

“Further, the defendant was reporting about the proceedings of a council meeting and in terms of the law, the defendants were protected by the defence of qualified privilege which covers media reports of proceedings of public bodies like Kwekwe City Council even if the words used from the proceedings were to be defamatory.”

Senderayi was represented by Advocate Ray Goba while AMH and its staff were represented by Advocate Thabani Mpofu.