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Anite demands Shs500 million from The Observer over bribery story

Minister claims the bi-weekly newspaper published innuendos that she was corrupt and unfit to be a minister

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THE SUIT | In a bizarre legal notice, The Observer could pay Shs500 million in damages if the publication fails to defend itself in a defamation suit.

State Minister for Investment and Privatisation Evelyn Anite is demanding the damages for what over a defamation against her person.

Through her lawyers, Arcadia Advocates, Anite contends that The Observer published falsehood that damaged her reputation as a “distinguished public officer charged with attracting investments into our motherland.”

In its May 2-8, 2018 issue, The Observer published a question-and-answer interview with Anite under the headline, ” Anite runs to Museveni over Shs 29bn bribe.”

And, introducing the article, The Observer wrote a summary intro that reads: “State Minister for Investment and Privatisation Evelyn Anite is rumoured to be under investigation for allegedly soliciting $8 million (Shs 28.8bn) bribe from a group of Arab investors.”

The headline and summary appear to have been drawn from Anite’s response to a question about allegations linking her to soliciting bribes from investors.

Anite, who has since taken leave of absence to pursue further studies in the US, had responded: “When I first heard about this particular issue, I went straight to my president and I had to tell him. I told him that word making rounds is that because of utl, I am going to get $8m (about Shs30 billion) just because I am fighting to save the company from liquidation. This issue is going to go before cabinet, we will discuss it, and we will choose; should the company be liquidated or not.”

Claims

Anite now claims that the headline and summary of the interview were particularly and intentionally misleading as they portrayed her as a corrupt public official.

“The said article contains innuendo that Anite is corrupt, a criminal, lacks integrity, and is not fit to hold the high office of minister,” Anite’s lawyers wrote in the August 1 notice to sue that was served to The Observer on Thursday, August 2.

The legal representatives said the article amounts to defamatory and highly damaging attack on the person of Anite.

Through her lawyers, Anite also claims that the article was published with the deliberate intention of undermining her hard-earned reputation “and calculated to gain your newspaper and advantage.”

Crime24‘s Jacobs Odongo Seaman says although there might have been a bit of “headline merchanting” during the writing of the headline and its accompanying summary, the notice to sue remains vague in as far as satisfying that the newspaper had the intention to defame Anite.

“She gave them the interview and, indeed, said herself that she had run to President Museveni to clear the air on the rumours linking her to soliciting bribes from investors,” he said.

“So, yes, Anite ran to Museveni over Shs29 billion bribery allegation, but not over the bribe. As for the summary, that would be justified in the context of the story since the minister herself does not deny the rumours linking her to bribery scandal,” Odongo added.

In newspaper publishing, a summary reinforces the main point of an article. A summary is always in a writer’s or publisher’s own words. However, a editor writing a summary cannot their own opinion.

But Anite did not see it this way, however, and has demanded a retraction of the story as well as an apology. She said she would have to approve the apology before it is run.

In July, Anite left handed over her docket to Planning minister David Bahati headed to Tufts University in US for graduate studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

She had enrolled on the Global Master of Arts Programme in International Law and Diplomacy in January with the blessing of President Museveni, who she told Daily Monitor was meeting the entire course’s entire $90,000 (Shs342 million) bill.

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