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Court dismisses defamation lawsuit against tabloid

(MISA/IFEX) - "Informanté", an independent weekly tabloid published by Trustco Group International (TGI), has won a defamation case against Oshakati Police Inspector Nico Steenkamp. The police inspector had earlier sued the tabloid for defamation calling for N$3 million (approx. US$435,000) in damages after "Informanté" published a story on 20 November 2008, entitled "Top cop accused of favouring love interests".

"Informanté" Editor Max Hamata was cited as first defendant, while Trustco Group International (TGI) and Free Press Printers were cited as second and third defendants respectively.

On 11 October 2010, High Court Justice Elton Hoff ordered that Steenkamp's claim be dismissed with costs, including that of payment for one instructing counsel and instructed counsel. Steenkamp was also claiming an interest of 20% per annum from the date of the judgment to the date of the full and final payment and cost of the suit.

In the story in question, Steenkamp was alleged to have recommended Okatope Police Station's Constable Verona Kavara for a month's course at the Israel Patrick Iyambo Police College in Windhoek. A month before the recommendation, Steenkamp and Kavara were alleged to have disappeared during the Omuthiya authority elections for a rendezvous at a lodge.

According to a report in the weekly's 4 November 2010 edition, in his particulars of claim Steenkamp had argued that the story was wrongful and defamatory as it was intended and understood by readers that Steenkamp abuses and exploits his office to corruptly favour his own personal and love interests at the expense of deserving officers. He also said the story implied that he cannot be trusted with a supervisory office as he is delinquent, has no moral fibre and is not worthy of his position in the force. Steenkamp also claimed the story sought to reflect that he has sexual affairs or encounters with a colleague, abandons or disregards his duties and responsibilities as a police official for purposes of a sexual or romantic relationship with a colleague and is guilty of corrupt behaviour and is generally unconcernable and or guilty of unconcernable conduct.

In their defence, "Informanté" and the co-defendants argued that Steenkamp by virtue of being an employee of the Ministry of Safety and a Police Inspector was a public figure while the defendants are all press defendants as envisaged in article 21 (1) (a) of the Namibian Constitution. They also argued that Steenkamp, in the absence of any other allegations, relied on the common law of defamation for his claim while the common law of defamation includes presumptions of animus iniuriandi. The defendants also stated that Steenkamp's particulars of claim were vague and embarrassing and they could not plead to them in a coherent manner. Steenkamp was being represented by Kishi Legal Practitioners while the three defendants were being represented by Van Der Merwe-Greef Inc legal practitioners.

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