KAMPALA – The High Court in Kampala has dismissed, with costs, a defamation case, which the former Ethics and Integrity Minister, Miria Matembe had instituted against the duo of Uganda Media Centre Director, Ofwono Opondo and NBS television.
In August 2017, Matembe sued Ofwono Opondo, alongside NBS TV and Charles Odongotho for allegedly defaming her and her husband, Nekemia Matembe while they appeared on a television talk show.
According to court documents, on July 27, 2017, Opondo appeared together with Matembe, Dr. Kizza Besigye, Nobert Mao, and Kahinda Otafiire on NBS TV’s flagship political show – the Frontline to discuss the then-proposal to amend the presidential age limit in the constitution of Uganda.
During the course of the debate, Matembe said that she had seen on TV how Opondo was enjoying cows for wealth creation. She further stated that because of the cows and what Opondo and others were eating, they were betraying Ugandans, wondering why they should ‘rape the constitution.’ In reaction, Opondo stated that he was sure Matembe had suffered similar things when ‘they’ said her husband Nekemia Matembe had left her, to sleep with house girls.
During the show, Odongotho who was the moderator of the program and the second defendant in the case asked Opondo to withdraw the statement but he declined.
Matembe too, threatened to sue Opondo if the Media Centre Director didn’t withdraw the statement but still he stuck to guns and refused to withdraw, prompting her to seek redress in court. She told the court that Opondo’s statements were defamatory not only to her but also to her husband who was not even a party to the conversation, insisting that their reputation had been injured by the right-thinking members of society.
In his defence, Opondo denied that his statements were defamatory in nature. He also said his words had been taken out of context to appear as though they were intended to injure Matembe’s reputation. Also, NBS and Odongotho denied that Opondo’s statements were made to defame the Matembes. They also denied that there was any negligence on their part when they aired the said defamatory statements.
In his ruling, High Court Judge Phillip Odoki agreed with Opondo that the statements he made as set out in the plaint had been used selectively.
“The quotation misses out on the relevant part of the statement of the 1st defendant wherein he stated that because the 2nd plaintiff based on rumours from the media, he also said what the media had said about her, which is vital in determining whether the utterances were defamatory of the plaintiffs,” held Odoki.
He added that having considered the context, background, and circumstances under which the words were uttered by Opondo, he did not find them to have any defamatory meaning.
“The plain meaning that any reasonable person can derive from the statements of the 1st defendant is that, what the 2nd plaintiff was saying about him, that he enjoyed cows for wealth creation, was a result of wrong reporting by the media, from which he had suffered, just like the 2nd plaintiff had suffered from similar wrong reporting that her husband left her and slept with house girls.
“The statement that the 2nd defendant had suffered from wrong reporting about her and her husband does not, in my view, carry any defamatory imputation. Issue 2 is therefore resolved in the negative,” read the ruling in parts.
On whether there was negligence on the part of NBS and Odongotho to allow Opondo to make the defamatory statements, Odoki ruled that Matembe failed to lay out the particulars of the case to assist those she dragged to court to prepare a defense.
“I am, therefore in agreement with the submission of counsel for the 1st defendant that since the plaintiff did not plead the particulars of negligence, their claim of negligence can not be allowed to stand,” reads the 19-page judgment, in part.
The judge also dismissed the accusation by Matembe against NBS and Odongotho that by allowing their channel to be used by Opondo to defame her, was tantamount to libel. The judge held that having found that the said statements were not defamatory, that ground too also collapsed.
“Having found that the statements complained about do not have any defamatory imputation, it cannot be said that the plaintiffs suffered as a result of those statements… The plaintiff has failed to prove their case against the defendants. This suit is accordingly dismissed with costs to the defendants,” ruled Odoki.
Additional reporting by URN