MASVINGO – A Masvingo magistrate has acquitted the Daily News, represented by its Group Editor, Stanley Gama, on allegations of publishing falsehoods prejudicial to the State.
The Daily News was charged by Masvingo police of publishing falsehoods in a story which claimed that Zanu PF had set up torture bases at Man’a Communal Lands in Gutu.
The story had been sourced from another media house which has its own editors.
Magistrate Dorothy Mwanyisa acquitted the Daily News at the close of the State case, stating that “putting the accused to defence will be a miscarriage of justice”.
According to the State, the Daily News published false information about the existence of torture bases in the province and three witnesses testified.
The story headlined, “Terror bases sprout in Gutu”, was published on December 17, 2012.
“The newspaper had a script which was emphasising on the case of local villagers (youths) being recruited by the Zanu PF party ahead of a referendum and general election and semi-military training was said to be underway at Man’a Business Centre, Gutu,” read the state allegations.
The state case was so weak that it left everyone in the court room confused as to who was being charged between the publishers and Gama, the group editor.
The witnesses, who included a police officer from Masvingo Law and Order section, a self proclaimed businessma from the area and an official from Zimbabwe Media Commission, all gave their testimonies, which failed to bolster the state’s case.
The Daily News lawyer Alec Muchadehama, successfully applied for discharge at the close of the state’s case after failure by the state to prove its case.
In her ruling Mwanyisa said: “After analysing the case that hinged on the basis of evidence from three witnesses, the case falls far short of proving that the accused made false statements knowing that it was false.”
She added: “It is not clear from the charge that the accused is Daily News or Stanley Gama,” Mwanyisa said.
(…The court, thus, with this basis, find that there is no evidence to prove essential elements of offense and therefore the accused is not guilty.”
She lambasted the witnesses for failing to prove that the story was not authentic and that it was false news.
The self proclaimed businessman from Man’a Business Centre, admitted that he never read the story but insisted that it was false.
Under pressure from Muchadehama, the witness admitted that he was only telling the court what he heard from the investigating officer.
The other state witness, a Zimbabwe Media Commission employee from Harare, Advance Chinamora, failed to convince the court that the story was false.
He generally chronicled the role of the editor in the publication of stories.
The third witness, a police officer who claimed to have accompanied the investigating officer to the scene said he did not know much about the case.
He could not answer most of the questions because he insisted that he was not the investigating officer. The investigating officer did not turn up for the trial on Monday.
Muchadehama had argued that the witnesses’ evidence was weak and the sate was not clear on whether it was charging Gama as an individual or the Daily News as the publisher to which magistrate Mwanyisa concurred.
Prosecutor Makaita Chikamhi appeared for the State.
Since the return of the Daily News in March 2011 with its fearless motto “telling it like it is without fear, without favour”, the paper has been a target of malicious arrests and lawsuits.