LANDS Minister Jean Kapata has submitted that defences of justification and fair comment by News Diggers Media Limited and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), are not a bar to the application for an order of interim injunction before the Lusaka High Court.
She has also submitted that any information on alleged illegal harvest and trade in Mukula ought to be reported to relevant investigative wings, rather than 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 News Diggers! and derived from an EIA report.
They are seeking among 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 defence.
But in an affidavit in reply to News Diggers and EIA’s Affidavits in Opposition to the application for Interim Injunction, Kapata stated that she was advised by her advocates and believed that the defences of justification and fair comment were not a bar to the application before Court.
She added that in any event, News Diggers had not stated in its Affidavit in Opposition, the particulars of the intended defences.
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.
She stated that in undertaking its stated mission, EIA should accord the subject of investigation the right to be heard.
Kapata added that by referring to ‘investigations of criminal activity’, EIA was admitting that its report imputes criminal conduct on herself and on the other Plaintiffs.
“I am advised by our Advocates and believe that any information on alleged criminal activities ought to be reported to the relevant statutory investigative wings of government, and not by circulating such information to media houses and posting the same on the Internet, as was the case with the third defendant (EIA),” she stated.
Kapata stated EIA’s alleged investigations could not be said to have been thorough, as stated, when the agency had not disputed the fact that the Plaintiffs have never been interviewed by it.
“The alleged wide discussions in Zambia in the last few years have never specifically accused the Plaintiffs of engaging In the illegal trade in Mukula logs herein. No details of the alleged discussions, and the dates thereof have been stated by the third defendant (EIA). That I am further advised by our advocates and believe that the defences of justification and fair comment are not a bar to the application before Court,” stated Kapata.