By CHINTU MALAMBO
LANDS Minister Jean Kapata has argued in the Lusaka High Court that the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the News Diggers Newspaper cannot rely on the defense of justification and fair comment to stop the court from restraining them from defaming her.
She submitted that any information on alleged illegal harvest and trade in Mukula should have been reported to relevant investigative wings, and not circulating it to media houses or posting the same on the Internet, as was the case with the EIA.
This is a matter in which Justice Minister Given Lubinda, his Lands counterpart Jean Kapata and President Edgar Lungu’s daughter Tasila have sued News Diggers Media Limited, its editor Mukosha Funga and the EIA in the Lusaka High Court, demanding damages for libel.
The three sued Funga, News Diggers Media Limited and EIA as first, second and third respondents respectively, in connection to a story on illegal Mukula trade which was published in the News Diggers and derived from an EIA report.
They are seeking among other claims, an order of interim and permanent injunction, restraining Funga, News Diggers! and EIA from publishing similar articles and opinions relating to them.
But in their separate affidavits in opposition to an application for interim injunction, News Diggers managing director Joseph Mwenda and EIA executive director Alexander Von Bismarck stated that they would be pleading the defence of justification and fair comment on a matter of public interest when they file their defense.
And Bismarck stated that his agency achieved its mission of protecting endangered wildlife, forests and global climate by conducting undercover investigations of criminal activity.
Bismarck stated that in relation to the case at hand, the EIA conducted a thorough investigation into the trade of Zambian Mukula – a subject which is discussed widely in Zambia, on the Internet in the last few years.
But in an affidavit in reply to News Diggers and EIA’s Affidavits in opposition to the application for Interim Injunction, Kapata stated that the defenses of justification and fair comment were not a bar to the application before Court.
She argued that in any event, News Diggers had not stated in its Affidavit in Opposition, the particulars of the intended defenses.
Kapata further stated that News Diggers had not adduced or exhibited before Court the evidence stated to be in its possession.
She stated that on January 14, this year, News Diggers republished online, EIA’s publication under the title “We stand by our report, Diggers – EIA”, notwithstanding that the subject matter was already before Court, and that the originating process, and the process for the application before Court had been served on the media house.
“This online article generated further comments from members of the public contemptuous of the first and third Plaintiffs, and myself,” Kapata stated.
By CHINTU MALAMBO