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Times Group ordered to pay Chaponda K50m in damages for defamation in maize-gate

Former Minister of Agriculture, George Chaponda has been awarded a whooping K50 million by the High Court in a 2017 case where he sued Blantyre Printing & Packaging Limited for defamation.

Chaponda prayed to the court for K350 million in monetary damages for “deliberate and coordinated attacks by the Daily Newspaper, Malawi News and Sunday Times run by the Times Media Group to tarnish his image in the reporting of Maize-gate.”

“I feel very happy, I feel vindicated by the courts,” Chaponda said, reacting to the assessment of damages.

The Mulanje South West Parliamentarian, who was acquitted of the three charges in the Maize-gate said some of the articles, commentary: ‘Defiant Chaponda’, ‘Chaponda can’t keep being dishonorable’, ‘Epitome of decadence’, ‘Malawi can’t stand this rot’, ‘In the Book of John’ and ‘Kapito’s stand defies reason’ accused him of corruption and illegal dealings.

He told the court the publication’s portrayal of him led to the loss of his job as minister, Vice president of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and suffered damage to his reputation both nationally and internationally including the United Nations.

“On the conduct of the defendant, the defendant’s stance has been that it published the articles in exercise of its media freedom until the Court found them in the wrong in respect of 6 articles,” reads the ruling in assessment of damages.”

Chaponda laughing to the bank

The court in its determination ordered that monetary compensation should not be so high as to bankrupt the defendants on the basis of balance between freedom of speech and the damage caused by the defamatory articles in determining the level of award.

“In the judgment from which these assessment proceedings emanate, the Honourable Judge directed that the damages awarded should not be huge damages which will end up bankrupting the defendants as responsible media freedom is necessary in a democracy as it calls on public servants to account and the media must be protected by the law and the courts.

“In terms of nature and extent of the publication, it is in evidence that the defendant’s newspapers have wide circulation within the country while its online platform transcends the borders. So, the defamatory articles not only circulated in Malawi but outside the country.”

Then Editor in Chief for Times, George Kasakula, now Director General of state broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) defended their actions saying they were based on national interest, freedom of the press, fair comment and qualified privilege. 

The court was compelled in its assessment, saying: “It must be mentioned that these articles were published in the context of allegations of fraud, corruption and mismanagement of funds in the procurement of maize by the Malawi Government through ADMARC in the period between April and October 2016. The allegations had aroused public interest.”

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