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Government official sues publisher

(MISA/IFEX) - The principal director in the Office of the President,
Christopher Mushowe, has commenced a defamation suit against the now defunct
"Sunday Gazette" for articles which appeared in January 1996. The articles
in question alleged that Mushowe used his power and influence to enrol in a
master's degree programme at the University of Zimbabwe.

Mushowe is suing University of Zimbabwe lecturer, John Makumbe, the alleged
source of the story; Modus Publications, the publishers of the story; and
reporter Basildon Peta, the author of the story.

Mushowe is demanding ZD100,000 (approx. US$2,600), with interest from the
above. He is also demanding a further ZD80,000 (approx. US$2,100), plus
interest, from Makumbe on his own and another ZD80,000 from Makumbe and
Modus Publications jointly.

Mushowe is arguing that the first article, entitled "Scandal rocks UZ", with
the sub-heading "Under-qualified President's Office man accepted for
Master's degree", implied that he had been inappropriately admitted to the
university, and that he had used his influence as an employee in the
president's office to intimidate the authorities at the university. He said
that the article not only had defamatory connotations, but also damaged his
image as a person. The second article, entitled "Law society withdraws UZ
prize", also dealt with the issue of his alleged inappropriate admission.

Peta and Modus Publications, through their lawyers, have denied any unlawful
action concerning the publication of the stories. They said the articles
concerned matters of public interest, and that they were not aware of any
falsehoods in them. In his plea, Makumbe, through his lawyers, admitted
having made the statements, but denied that they were defamatory of Mushowe.
He said the comments he made were substantially true and of public interest.

MISA-Zimbabwe reports that the current law of defamation in Zimbabwe weighs
the balance too heavily in favour of protection of reputation and leaves
journalists vulnerable to defamation suits. The minister of justice has
admitted, on record, that the current law offers inadequate protection to
the media from defamation suits. According to MISA-Zimbabwe, the current law
therefore constrains the media from fulfilling their role of exposing
dishonesty, corruption and nepotism, and promoting integrity and honesty in
public administration.

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