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Former MTN Legal Head Anthony Katamba to pay costs after losing defamation case

The former MTN Head of Legal and Corporate Services, Anthony Katamba (Photo/Courtesy)

Kampala, (UG): The High Court Civil Division in Kampala has dismissed with costs a case in which former MTN Head of Legal and Corporate Services, Anthony Katamba jointly sued MTN, Nation Media Group, and individual Editors, accusing them of disseminating defamatory materials and defamation respectively.

The High Court presiding judge, Justice Musa Ssekaana has ruled that his case lacks justification and is based on mere sentiments after he lost his job at MTN.

Mr Ssekaana in his ruling also confirmed that TheEastAfrican Newspaper only based their articles on Justice Giduddu’s earlier ruling that Katamba was involved in the torture of one Ssentongo who was a fellow workmate accused of Mobile Money fraud.

Katamba had sought the Court’s intervention for recovery of damages for the defamation of his otherwise good name, arising from an article published in The East African Newspaper of February 16th-22nd, 2019 on page 5 under the headline “MTN case pits Uganda against 4 nations”, together with interest and costs.

Katamba was particularly riled by the story carried in the East African Newspaper and a separate publication of a similar nature in Independent Magazine to the effect that the deportation of former MTN CEO Mr Wim Vanhelleputte happened two days after he had sacked MTN’s manager legally and corporate services, Anthony Katamba, after a stormy encounter in which Mr Katamba reportedly threatened his boss with deportation.

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Katamba was also agitated by an email written by MTN CEO to members of the board, highlighting that Mr Katamba had threatened him with deportation. Mr Wim was justifying the sacking of Katamba, who had worked with MTN for close to 18 years, saying there was overwhelming tension between him and other employees who accused Katamba of intimidation and high-handedness.

Finally, Katamba was also unhappy with allegations that in 2015, he was accused of working with state security; agents to force confessions from other employees, including threats and torture. He asked the court to award him costs in damages.

However, in his ruling of 31st August 2023, Justice Ssekana dismissed the case with costs arguing that there was no malice imputed from the actions of MTN management adding that they were simply verifying the allegations against Katamba..

The Judge ruled that The MTN CEO also had a duty to communicate to the 5th defendant’s Board on the events surrounding the plaintiff’s termination of employment.

“No malice was shown here”, Justice Ssekanna stated.

He added; “The plaintiff’s allegations of malice are mere conjecture that he failed to prove. It is further understood that the plaintiff was bitter after losing his employment and made some utterances in rage and fury. The plaintiff’s claim and cause of action in defamation was merely an extended anger towards his employers and colleagues at MTN. There was nothing malicious about the publication of the article as he wanted this court to believe.”

In the chronology of events and as stated by the plaintiff, the Judge stated that the 5th defendant was indeed deported on the 14th of February 2019 two days after the plaintiff’s employment was terminated.

“The alleged threat of deportation as threatened/stated by the plaintiff was reported to police on 13th February 2019 by both the 5th and 6th defendants.”

“The allegation that the threats to deport and indeed the deportation of the 5th defendant was true and the plaintiff was in the know of what was happening even if he claims not to have been behind it. The evidence on court record shows otherwise”, he added.

On the accusations against The East African and its Editors, contending that they falsely and maliciously printed and published or caused to be written and published statements of a defamatory nature against Katamba, which were utterly false and unfounded and the words were highly defamatory of the plaintiff and calculated to lower his hitherto high esteem in the eyes of right-thinking members of society, the judge equally ruled that there was no justification for that claim.

“Words are not defamatory however much they damage a man in the eyes of a sector of the community unless they also amount to a disparagement of his reputation in the eyes of right-thinking members of society. To write or say of a man something that will disparage him in the eyes of a particular section of the community but will affect his reputation in the eyes of the average thinking man is not actionable in the law of defamation”.

Defence Counsel had argued that The defendants also relied on the defense of qualified privilege contending that the plaintiff was in fact accused in criminal proceedings in Criminal Session case no. 123 of 2012 of working with security organs to force a confession from Sentongo which was the basis of the publication.

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The judge ruled that Katamba failed to prove negligence or malice on the part of The East African in publishing about the ongoing or concluded criminal proceedings where his name was cited in torture to extract a confession.

“The defendants reported on the court proceedings and court ruling to publish the article however unfair it seemed against the plaintiff”. Justice Ssekana upheld the Defense Lawyers’ argument that in many aspects the publication was a commentary on the facts surrounding the termination of the plaintiff from employment adding that the publication cited incidents to back up the statements that the plaintiff was accused of high-handedness and intimidation which were all factual and not exaggerated. The judge dismissed the case with costs.

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