The Uganda Media Council has directed the Pepper Publications Limited, proprietor of Red Pepper and the defunct Hello newspaper to pay NTV's Faridah Nakazibwe Shs 45 million for publishing articles that degraded her dignity.
The decision was reached by the disciplinary committee of the council chaired by its chairperson, Paulo Okochu. The committee delivered its ruling on Monday at the ministry of Information, Communication and Technology offices.
The ruling stems from a complaint to the council by Nakazibwe in June 2016. In her complaint, Nakazibwe accused Richard Tusiime, the then editor of Hello Newspaper and Pepper Publications limited for publishing 38 articles between December 2015 and June 2016 that caused her "torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, stress and anguish."
The articles largely focused on Nakazibwe's relationship then with the first NRM vice chairman, Hajji Musa Kigongo. While appearing before the committee, Nakazibwe confirmed that she had a relationship with Kigongo.
Although Nakazibwe, argued that the 38 articles were false, the media council disciplinary committee, says she didn't prove the falsehoods, except in two articles. The first article was published in Hello on December 23, 2015 titled "Fiance sold Faridah to Kigongo @70m" and the second was published in the same paper on December 29th, 2015 titled "Kigongo marries Faridah sister."
Nakazibwe sought a number of orders, including a declaration that Pepper Publications Limited acted unlawfully when they failed to register the particulars of its Hello editor with the council. She also accused Hello of unlawfully publishing her photos from Facebook without her consent and subjected her to inhuman and degrading treatment.
She further sought for an order for disclosure of the name of the journalist who authored the articles and prohibition of publication of Red Pepper and Hello newspapers for 6 months, award of exemplary, punitive and general damages as well as running a front page apology for a period of 6 months.
In its ruling, the committee observed that since the articles focused on Nakazibwe's love affair, they were an infringement on her privacy.
"The committee finds that indeed articles as a whole, in the view of the fact of the insistence and nature of the articles that 38 articles over a period of one year about one person are definitely an intrusion into her privacy. We also find that the use of photographs of complainant without her consent are a breach of Code 3 of the Code and an appropriation of her persona without her permission or authority is an infringement of her privacy." said Okochu.
The committee declared that publication of the now defunct Hello newspaper without registering its editor with the media council was illegal and unlawful. The committee, however, declined to issue orders directing Red Pepper to name the author of the 38 articles published without a byline.
"In respect of prohibition of Red Pepper and Hello newspaper, the committee finds no compelling reasons to prohibit publication of Red Pepper…as regards Hello newspaper, the publication is moot as we were informed that it is no longer in publication," the ruling reads.
Though Nakazibwe had sought for Shs 300 million as general damages and Shs 2 billion as exemplary damages, the committee awarded her Shs 38 million as general damages and Shs 15 million as exemplary damages. The Shs 45 million will carry a 6 per cent annual interest rate.
"The respondent shall make a counter apology to the complainant in at least 10 publications of the second respondents in lawfully published newspaper that is the Red Pepper newspaper in the same boldness and manner as the stories complained of. The respondent shall pay the complainant Shs 45 million being general and exemplary damages. The sum shall attract 6% interest pa from the date of this decision to date of payment." added Okochu.
The Pepper Publications declined to appear before the committee, arguing that there was no case to answer.
In a 15th August 2016 letter to the committee, the lawyers of the Pepper publications limited argued that the company is incorporated not a journalist hence there was no case to answer.
They also argued that Richard Tusiime is an editor not a journalist yet the Press and Journalist Act doesn't provide for proceedings against an editor.