Tsodilo Services (Pty) Ltd vs. Matambo: a journalism indictment and call to action
This paper is based on the case between Botswana’s Minister of Finance Kenneth Ontefetse Matambo and a popular Sunday paper, known as Sunday Standard, operated through a company called Tsodilo Services Pty Ltd. In this matter of defamation, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court and awarded the Respondent (Minister) thousands of pula in compensation. The newspaper tried to rely on the defence of Qualified Privilege which is available both at common law and through statute. However, the Court declined to grant it as the article in question was not based on parliamentary proceedings but rather on a report of a committee of Parliament. This case follows a similar one, Tsodilo Services Pty Ltd v Tibone, six years earlier involving another minister, Mbiganyi Charles Tibone. Even in that case, although the newspaper would have ordinarily relied on the defence of Qualified Privilege as it was reporting on parliamentary proceedings, it did not avail to them because their reporting was irresponsible and malicious. Neither could they succeed on the defence of Fair Comment. The court only agreed to reduce the dolus as it was of the view that dolus (damages) is meant to assuage the feelings of the defamed (as compensation) whereas punishment and deterrence are left to the criminal courts. The similarity between the two court cases is that both reflect failure by journalists to stick to basic journalistic rules of the profession such as accuracy, fact checking, moderate tone and right of reply before publication. The other similarity is that the articles in both cases were written by very senior people at the paper (Editor and Deputy Editor) and thus make a serious indictment on the profession of journalism. This article argues for a return to the basics of the profession and dispassionate reporting. There is also need to learn basic media law. It seems defamation is by far the most dangerous threat to the profession of journalism in Botswana. It appears that a lot of journalists do not have a thorough understanding of this law.
Keywords: Botswana; Ethics; Law; Press Freedom; Code of Ethics; Constitution; Privilege Dolus And Irresponsible