Reporter acquitted on criminal defamation charge

The Zimbabwean’s Midlands correspondent, Brenna Matendere, has been acquitted on a charge of criminal defamation that had been pressed by Gweru police officers.

Charges against the reporter arose over a story he wrote about a police officer who had been jailed for theft in which he stated that two other policemen, Jealousy Munyati and Andrew Konje, had also been previously convicted for bribery.

State prosecutor Munyaradzi Guveya had told the court that the claim in the story had defamed Munyati and Konje as they had been acquitted on the bribery charge.

However, Matendere, through his lawyer, Brian Dube of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers (ZLHR), challenged the State’s case, arguing that the police officers’ complaint of criminal defamation was motivated by their desire to settle personal scores with the accused.

Dube said that was proved by rejection of a retraction and attempted extortion amounting to $600 in return for a withdrawal of the case.

The lawyer also indicated that the complainants had no reputation to protect because though it was later seen they had been acquitted of the bribe charge, they were suspended twice from their work and were not reporting for work.

In passing judgment, magistrate Sithembiso Ncube concurred with Matendere’s defence that there was no criminal defamation in the said circumstances.

She said the State, though it succeeded in proving the error in the story, had failed to satisfy the court that there was willful intention to defame them.

She said that publication of a false statement about someone did not become a crime unless there was an intention to harm that person’s reputation.

The magistrate cited scholars who have submitted that court reporting is difficult due to the legal language used.

The Media and Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, has pointed out that criminal defamation is out of sync with the new constitution that was adopted last year while the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum

(Zinef) has indicated that it will challenged the constitutionality of the law.

Police stand accused of abusing the law whenever they feel that journalists have exposed them.

Recently, the police arrested Newsday editor, Nevanji Madanhire and reporter Moses Matenga on a criminal defamation charge after writing stories that exposed police negligence in the death of a three year old Harare boy who was run over by a commuter bus which was fleeing law enforcers.

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