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Media defender demands damage claims from journo

Collins Mtika, the deputy president of Journalists Union of Malawi (JUMA), a body mandated to protect media practitioners, has threatened to take a journalist working for Nation Publications Limited (NPL) to court if the company does not pay him K2m in damages.
Mtika filed his K2m claim for damages based on a story, NPL journalist, Edwin Nyirongo wrote on 25 July 2011, after he (Mtika) was arrested on suspicions that he assaulted a police officer during the 20 July violent protests where 19 people were killed.

"Your story in the Nation on Monday, 25 July 2011, alleging that Collins Mtika and other unknown persons to (Mtika) had beaten a senior police officer on/or during the July 20th, 2011 demonstrations in Mzuzu, constitute defamation," wrote Mtika in his claim which he addressed to NPL CEO, Mbumba Achutan.

In the letter which is titled 'Claim for K2 million defamatory costs', dated 8 September 2011, Mtika claims that the article caused him to be lowered in the minds of right thinking people in Malawi since he is the vice president of JUMA and the northern region bureau chief of UK based online publication Nyasa Times.com.

Psychological trauma and torture


He further claims that family and close relations underwent psychological trauma and torture, and they are still dealing with enquiries from both within Malawi and abroad 'on the inaccurate story' NPL published.

Mtika, a personal friend to the author of the story, said the story was written without any efforts to clarify the information.

"Your reporter deliberately published without an iota of research, objectivity and thoroughness," charged Mtika in his letter.

The JUMA deputy head says, among other things, the NPL reporter had not been 'reasonable' in publishing 'the defamatory story'.

Omission of facts


Mtika thinks the NPL journalists deliberately failed to consider or omitted several points that include the nature of information, the reliability of the source and did not verify the information and neither did he give Mtika the opportunity to respond before publishing.

"Unfortunately, your story does not seem to pass the 'reasonableness' hence malicious and defamatory," argues Mtika.

The story which Mtika is basing his claims was titled 'Mtika's Bail Hearing today' and reported about the day that he was arrested, the manner and the place where he was nabbed.

"He was picked by the police when he was going to the bank and has been on remand since then," the story says before quoting Mzuzu police spokesperson Edward Nyirenda who said Mtika was one of the three people arrested in connection with the assaulting of a police officer.

"Mtika and two others...are accused of assaulting a senior police officer. This happened on Wednesday during the demonstrations," the story quoted Nyirenda as saying.

Mtika is apparently angry with a paragraph in the story that quoted the police spokesperson saying further that during the time [of violent demonstrations], people were stoning the police and Mtika and the two others were identified to be culprits when the police officer was assaulted.

The NPL journalist then quoted Mtika's lawyer, George Kadzipatike, who JUMA has hired, who was able to dismiss the charges as mere fabrications.

"The police are saying that he assaulted a police officer. This is all lies but the main fact is that he is writing for Nyasa Times," the story quoted the lawyer as saying.

Journalists were doing their jobs


But in his letter of claim for damages, Mtika wrote that like all journalists on that day, he was not part and parcel of demonstrations and was merely doing his job by covering the demonstrations.

"But the story that appeared in the Nation newspaper, four days after the arrest on Monday 25th July, 2011, was erroneous, malicious and lacked thoroughness as it did NOT go beyond presenting the opposing arguments," said Mtika.

He further argues that the story quoted Mzuzu Police Station spokesperson Edward Nyirenda, who he said ironically does not exist at Mzuzu Police Station since the real name of the police spokesperson is Edward Longwe.

"But your reporter deliberately failed to probe more or the nature of information he gathered or researched...but deliberately took on the face value of the source's word or information as gospel truth and worthy publishing," he said.

He then drops the bombshell, "If you do not deliver to me the said sum of K2 million, I shall be forced to commence legal proceedings against Nation Publications Limited claiming damages for defamation and legal costs."

But in an interview with Bizcommunity, the author of the story said he was baffled that a person who is supposed to defend him in his work is in the fore front threatening to drag him to court.

"Reading through, the claim clearly shows that Mtika wanted me fired at all cost when, as VP of JUMA, he is supposed to protect journalists," charges Nyirongo.

However, Mtika told Bizcommunity that his intention is not to get anyone fired but to clear his name.

"Yes I am the deputy president of JUMA but that does not stop me from asking for their apology," he said.

Mtika said Nyirongo should have indicated in the story that the charges he was arrested for were trumped up. JUMA executive is currently looking into the issue to see how best the matter can be resolved.

About Gregory Gondwe

Gregory Gondwe is a Malawian journalist who started writing in 1993. He is also a media consultant assisting several international journalists pursuing assignments in Malawi. He holds a Diploma and an Intermediate Certificate in Journalism among other media-related certificates. He can be contacted on moc.liamg@ewdnogyrogerg. Follow him on Twitter at @Kalipochi.
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