Botswana journalist defeats lengthy libel case
In April 2014, following thirteen years of on-off proceedings, the High Court of Botswana finally dismissed a libel case brought against journalist Methaetsile Leepile by a senior judge of Botswana’s High Court.
Judge Mpaphi Passevil Phumaphi had brought the case in response to a newspaper article on nepotism in the judiciary, which quoted from an unpublished paper by Leepile on this topic. Leepile, who started one of the main independent newspapers in the country, argued that he had never intended for his draft article to be published – he had merely sent it to a fellow journalist for comment.
Justice Singh Walia, who presided over the case in the High Court, agreed with Leepile and dismissed the case with costs. Further hearings will determine the level of costs to be reimbursed to Leepile – although MLDI provided financial assistance during the last few years of the proceedings and the Media Institute for Southern Africa also provided assistance, defending the matter over a thirteen-year period has been a huge drain on the journalist’s resources.
If the judgment had gone against Leepile he would have faced grave financial consequences. In addition to having to largely self-fund his own legal expenses, if the judge had ruled in favour of the plaintiff, Leepile would have also faced damages of up to USD$100,000. This illustrates the grave danger that even civil defamation laws can pose to journalism.