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Publishing Defamatory Statements, A threat To Media Houses

By July 7, 2023No Comments

The defamation case of Pius Bigirimana vs Monitor publications civil suit No.612 of 2017 can send a media house to insolvency due to the nature of costs and damages awarded.

The facts

Between the year 2012 and 2013, Monitor publications Ltd through their newspaper “the Daily Monitor” published defamatory statements against the plaintiff that he misappropriated funds that were meant for Northern Uganda post-War Rehabilitation, the region had gone through decades of war and trauma and had far reaching effects to the population .The plaintiff contended that because of the publications, he suffered damage and injury, lost public reputation and was shunned at his place of work, family, and public.

Justice Musa Ssekana found that the publications were false and malicious and awarded Pius Bigirimana the highest award ever in defamation cases in the sums of UGX 350,000,000/= general damages, and punitive damages 100,000,000 to punish the defendants and discourage them from publishing further defamatory statements about the plaintiff.

The damages awarded in this case are so high compared to other defamation cases involving public figures and people of repute at the same level. In the case of Teddy Ssezi Cheeye and ors vs. Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebire and ors Supreme court Civil Appeal No.36/1994, the appellant through his Newspaper the Uganda confidential alleged that Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebire through Incafex a company where he has an interest had mismanaged a project worth $28 million meant to boost the social life of peasants in Western Uganda called South Western Regional Agriculture Rehabilitation. Money had been committed but for three years there was nothing to show for the project. The Supreme Court awarded damages of UGX 4,800,000 to Tumusiime Mutebire who the court found that he had an actionable claim in libel against the appellant. Mutebire was then the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and Secretary to the Treasury.

The reason for the generous award in the case of Pius Bigirimana as compared to other defamation cases involving persons of similar or higher status is not clear because all cases of the nature involve reputational damage which should form the basis of the award. The difference in the Bigirimana case seems to be the gravity of the allegations, it was contended that the funds worth UGX 50,000,000,000 that were allegedly misappropriated were meant for Northern Uganda post war Rehabilitation project and any person believed to have meddled with such funds would be equated to a mass murderer. This is believed to have greatly damaged the plaintiff’s reputation among right thinking people of the society hence the difference with other defamation cases involving people of similar or higher status.

The significance of the case is to put media houses on notice that publishing defamatory statements on a high-profile figure may send a media house to insolvency due to the nature of damages and costs.

By Judith Ngobi

Patrons

Naboth Muhairwe

Edgar Agaba

Supervisor

Flavia N. Wejuli