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.
In his Tuesday 14th April judgment, Justice Andrew K Bashaija agreed with the claims Otafiire raised in his suit No. 44 of 2019 in which he accused New Vision of defamation when it reported that he had used his clout as a Minister to become an owner of the land in the Njeru Stock Farm neighborhood. The farm belongs to the Government of Uganda and Justice Bashaija found that it was defamatory for the state-owned newspaper to portray Otafiire as a grabber of government land yet he has the title registered in his name making him the conclusive owner of the land in question.
In his affidavit in reply, Etukuri the author had asserted that this claim against Otafiire had been made by fellow Minister Joy Kabatsi and even by others during proceedings of Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire’s land inquiry proceedings. He submitted that all this combined to entitle the newspaper to the defense of privilege. Justice Bashaija wasn’t moved to consider that sufficient to diminish the publisher’s liability. The newspaper also unsuccessfully pleaded the defense of fair comment in that they rang Otafiire who denied the accusations and his clarification was published as part of the impugned stories. The newspaper made their case even more complicated when they stopped at Etukuri’s affidavit evidence without their legal team filing any written submissions as part of their defense efforts.
However, Justice Bashaija wasn’t convinced that Etukuri and New Vision had substantive defense to diminish the publisher’s liability.
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.