Kalangala Magistrate’s Court has convicted a Radio journalist for defamation.
Ronald Ssembusi, a reporter with CBS Radio based in Kalangala district has been found guilty of defaming Daniel Kikoola, the former Kalangala Local Council 5 Chairperson.
Ssembusi’s woes started on November 17, 2011, when CBS aired a story in which he mentioned Kikoola among the suspects under investigation for allegedly stealing over 40 solar panels from Muffo in Kalangala Town Council, triggering a water crisis in the area.
The solar panels were donated by Water and Environment Ministry to power pumps to supply clean water in the town council.
Kikoola denies involvement in the alleged theft. He dragged Ssembusi to court alleging that the news broadcast on CBS radio damaged his reputation among the right thinking members of society.
The former local council chairperson wanted court to compel Ssembusi to compensate him as an individual for the damages the news story inflicted on him. He also wanted court to force CBS Radio to apologise to him for the story it broadcast.
Kikoola presented three witnesses who confirmed to court that their former Chairperson had been defamed by the CBS story.
Through his Lawyer Cathy Anite of Human Rights Network for Journalists, Ssembusi denied defaming Kikoola. He said he took trouble to consult him as an ethical requirement of balance and fairness.
Ssembusi said after consulting Kikoola, he carried the story and he never intended to defame him whatsoever. The case was being handled by Kenneth Gimungu, the former Kalangala Grade One Magistrate.
On Friday, after two years of hearing, Samuel Twakyire, the new Kalangala Grade One Magistrate delivered the ruling convicting Ssembusi who was not in court due to sickness.
Edward Bindhe, a reporter with Uganda Radio Network and Sadab Kitatta, of The Observer newspaper, who stood in surety for Ssembusi were put in the dock in his absence.
Twakyire first apologized to court saying he was not the one in charge of the case and therefore he had nothing to do with the ruling. He explained that he simply read the ruling as it was written by Kenneth Gimungu, the trial magistrate who is away.
Twakyire explained that he convicted Ssembusi because he was satisfied with the evidence presented to court by prosecution. He said that the fact that the story, with Ronald Ssembusi’s voice aired on CBS was enough evidence that he defamed Kikoola.
He explained that when they presented recordings with the copy of the story read by the late Mukiibi Sserunjogi, the news anchor, Ssembusi never denounced it.
Twakyire pushed Ssembusi’s sentencing to October 17th this year saying he wants to see him physically. He also ordered the two sureties Edward Bindhe and Sadab Kitata to ensure they produce him in court that day or else they will be personally sentenced or made to pay one million shillings each to be discharged from the case.
Cathy Anite, Ssembusi’s counsel says the trial magistrate failed to evaluate the evidence. She said she will appeal on a number of grounds including the fact that Kenneth Gimungu, the trial magistrate was biased.
She explained that Kikoola and Gimungu have been very good friends basing on the fact that they sit on the board of Ssese Humanitarian Service , Kalangala based NGO headed by Bernhard Glaser Berry.