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Member of Parliament sues Yarona FM for defamation

(MISA/IFEX) - The Member of Parliament for the ruling party, Phillip Makgalemele, is suing a privately owned radio station, Yarona FM, and its former employee, Macdonald Rakgare, for a total sum of P2 million (approx. US$304,200) for defamation following a broadcast aired in 2008.

The case is before Chief Justice Dibotelo Maruping. According to media reports, Yarona FM broadcast allegations that the MP was bribed while accompanying the under 23 national football team on a friendly match in China.

Makgalemele, who was still the president of the Botswana Football Association when these allegations were aired, is now a member of parliament for Shoshong.

It was reported that while the Botswana team was in China to play a friendly match, Makgalemele had confided to Major David Bright, who held a senior team position during this debacle, that a certain Japanese person wanted to bribe the team. Botswana was to lose all their games and win some favours from this person in return. According to Rakgare's source, the Botswana team would only get their reward after Makgalemele agreed to the plan.

Rakgare said Bright told him that Makgalemele said if the coaching team agreed, Makgalemele had no problem taking the money. Rakgare also said Bright disagreed with Makgalemele's plan and told Makgalemele that they were playing for the pride of the nation. Botswana lost only one game and went on to win the tournament contested by host countries China, Japan and South Korea.

Rakgare also said he was shocked to receive a letter of complaint from Makgalemele's lawyers after airing the news item. The court heard that the Yarona FM station management had studied the letter and offered Makgalemele an opportunity to explain the issue on air. Makgalelemele had refused the offer, however.

It was also reported that all initiatives taken to try to balance the story and to give Makgalemele an opportunity to respond to these serious allegations proved fruitless. "I made an effort to contact Makgalemele for quite some time but he would not accept the invitations," said Rakgare when testifying before court.

Rakgare said he went ahead with the news item after realizing that he would never get Makgalemele's response. It appears that Rakgare is pinning his case on his key source and witness, Major Bright. The prosecution dismissed Rakgare's testimony, saying he had never verified his facts before going on air. MISA Botswana is following the case.

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