Justice Madise cautions High Court Registrar against awarding huge monetary damages to former Agriculture Minister Chaponda in defamation case against Times Group

Justice Madise; the media must be protected by the law and the courts

* The newspapers to withdraw the said articles and sincerely apologise to Chaponda on the front pages

* The Registrar to access damages taking into account the apology that the defendant will make

* It is not in the interest of this court to order huge damages which will end up bankrupting the defendants

* Responsible media freedom is necessary in a democracy as it calls on public servants to account

By Duncan Mlanjira

High Court Judge, Justice Dingiswayo Madise ruled on Monday that Times Group — publishers of The Daily Times, Malawi News and The Sunday Times — defamed former Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development when the newspapers reported on the maize saga of 2016.


Chaponda went to court soon after the Times Group newspapers wrote a series of reports and editorial comments in December 2016, which the Mulanje South West Parliamentarian claimed the newspapers “launched a coordinated defamatory, libelous and injurious barrage of publications”.

In his judgement, Justice Madise said having looked at the evidence for and against he found that the Times Group publications “went overboard in their quest to inform the public” and that “their freedom as a media house injured Chaponda’s name in the eyes of right thinking members of the society”.

He judged that the newspapers embarked on publications that violated Chaponda’s character and that “the civil law must remedy this assault”.

Former Minister George Chaponda

“Commenting on issues of public interest does not involve injuring the integrity of other people,” said the judgement. “When commenting on issues of public interest, vis a vis public officials, the defence of qualified privilege or fair comment can only be invoked where there is some truth in the story.

“However, that not withstanding, the defendants herein had a duty to balance the interests of the public to receive information and the rights of the claimant not to be unjustly ridiculed.

“No one should injure the reputation of other people under the guise of fair comment and media freedom.

“I, therefore, find that the reference to the claimant as the seat of Satan’s residence; the epitome of decadence; rotten than a brutal savage; such a person if followed, his followers are idiots — to be defamatory on the face of it.

“I, therefore, order the defendants who authored those articles, if still in employment to withdraw the said articles sincerely to the claimant on the front pages of all the pages involved, in this case within 10 days [from February 28].”

Times Group publications


However, the other defendants in the case are no longer with Times Group that include George Kasakula (former editor-in-chief); Innocent Chitosi (former editor of The Daily Times); Chachacha Munthali (former editor of The Sunday Times) and Madalitso Musa.

Madise ruled that the front pages of the papers “must not carry any other article apart from the apology as ordered”.

“The claimant is entitled to monetary damages and I order the Registrar to access damages taking into account the apology that the defendant will make.

“It is not in the interest of this court to order huge damages which will end up bankrupting the defendants. 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.”

Justice Madise took cognizance that the Times Group denied and asked proof of defamation as the reports posted were in true substance based on fair comment.

In his defence, Kasakula had said the articles were published for the national interest and in pursuit of media freedom on public information of public interest — thus denying that they were meant to damage, injure and discredit Chaponda’s character and reputation.


He defended the news articles that they were based on allegations of fraud, corruption and mismanagement of public funds in the procurement of maize by government through ADMARC which was under criminal proceedings by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) that were instituted alongside Rashid Tayib under the Corrupt Practices Act reported — which were reported by several other media houses.

In his submissions, Chaponda — whom Justice Madise has ordered to pay the cost of the defamation action — several particular publications in December 2016 that included a story headlined ‘The Defiant Chaponda’ for reportedly failing to report for hearing of a Parliamentary Committee on the maize saga.

He claimed that the article alluded that he was “defiant and self-willed person, who is not willing to cooperate with other members of the society” and that he is not “willing to be subservient and eager to disdain lawful and reasonable demands”.

He alleged that Times Group “purposely disregarded the truth to fulfil their ill motives and conclusions to embrace the editorial comment titled ‘Chaponda can’t keep playing dishonorable’ saying his image and reputation as a public official and individual had been severely scandalized and tarnished.

People were queuing for maize during the maize saga

He cites another; ‘Epitome of Decadence’ as being “intentionally calculated to portray him as a morally rotten person, and worse, that I am the very epitome of that moral rottenness in our society.

“My image and reputation as a public official has been lowered and brought into public scandal, odium and contempt.

Another was: “No one is above the law, including Chaponda — It isn’t that Minister George Chaponda does not know how the law works. It is just that he thinks that he is above the law and that he can therefore do whatever he wants and in defiance of court decisions…

He “jumped a court injunction which effectively suspended him from discharging ministerial duties until probe in the maize saga is completed when he flew to Germany on official duty”.


Due to all series of the reports, Chaponda contended that his colleagues and members of society — both local and international — questioned if indeed he had stolen money and that his family suffered irreparable reputational damage which received numerous queries from South Africa including journalists at South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

He also claimed that several charities in the UK, who expressed interest to work with his family members on social and community projects in Malawi, pulled out after the negative media coverage.

He also said the reports widely circulated throughout the United Nations system where he was formally a respected member of staff at UNHCR and thus damaged his reputation at the UN had been “damaged after a long and distinguished career as public service”.

He was also removed as Leader of the House and was subsequently removed as Minister since the President Peter Mutharika “was compelled to do so from the nature of reporting that was being generated.