Tourism chief sues paper for 'slander'

A top Zanu-PF official is suing one of Zimbabwe's independent daily newspapers for a whopping $3-million over two reports which he claims were defamatory.

Media watchdogs see the move as yet another attempt by hardliners within President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party to stifle media freedom.

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Documents obtained by Sunday Times on Friday show that Karigoka Kaseke, the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), which is mandated with the enforcement of the Tourism Act, is demanding financial compensation from the Daily News, which hit the streets less than three months ago after being forcibly closed by the Mugabe regime in 2003.

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Kaseke, a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Transport, is the first plaintiff and the ZTA the second.

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Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe , publishers of the Daily News, is the first defendant in the matter, while Maxwell Sibanda, the entertainment editor, is the second defendant. Daily News chief executive Jethro Goko is cited as the third defendant.

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In the first offending article , under the headline, “ZTA: Bundle of Confusion”, Kaseke’s lawyers say the Daily News defamed him and the ZTA by “unjustifiably and untruthfully stating that the ZTA – led by its chief executive Karikoga Kaseke – has been everywhere: their hands have been in football, music and pageantry. And its flirtation has been mired in controversy”.

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The lawyers say the statements were defamatory against both Kaseke and the ZTA, as they give a reader the impression the defendants did not know their mandate, and were going about doing everything – but that was false.

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“The statements further form a misleading impression that the first (Kaseke) and second (ZTA) plaintiffs have no business to do in music, football and pageantry – and that their involvement there is nothing but meddling – yet in actual fact music, football and pageantry constitute part and parcel of tourism and that it is within the first and second plaintiffs’ mandate under the Tourism Act to pioneer projects with tourism flair in those disciplines,” reads the summons served on the Daily News.

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Kaseke’s lawyers say the newspaper went further to defame Kaseke when commenting on an accident he had in the company of three models on their way to Chinhoyi early this year – in which the paper wrote: “Should it really take Kaseke, a chief executive director, to accompany models to their assignments?”

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The lawyers charged the Daily News portrayed Kaseke as a “sex predator” who used his position to get close to beautiful models and obtained favours from them.

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Kaseke is also suing the paper for a story headlined: “ZTA forces employees to sign anti-sanctions petition”.

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His lawyers say the allegations are “highly defamatory” to Kaseke and ZTA as they portray them as bad employers who did not respect the rights of employees to act on their own conscience.

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But the Daily News has served notice to defend the lawsuits. The paper’s lawyers deny Kaseke and the ZTA were defamed, saying in court papers: “To muzzle or seek to muzzle defendants by way of the present action as is sought to be done by the plaintiffs amounts to a violation of the defendant’s right to free expression as enshrined in the constitution.”