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Economy - Development | Media

Batswana newspaper sued by Chinese companies

afrol News, 24 July - The 'Botswana Gazette', has been sued for damages amounting to Pula 10,000,000 (US$ 200,000) for publishing a story headlined "Protect citizen contractors against Chinese" that appeared in its 2 July edition. The newspaper referred to widespread bribery among Chinese construction companies operating in Botswana.

The article quoted Mogolori Modisi, Vice-President of the Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM) addressing an annual general meeting in which he allegedly cited problems faced by citizen-owned construction companies when getting tenders from government.

Mr Modisi allegedly attributed the problem to competition between locals and Chinese Companies that he said were not guided by market forces because they (Chinese) enjoyed financial patronage from their government.

The statements he made about what he termed "unfair competition and other statements" have now become the cause for a claim for damages against the local paper, according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).

Mr Modisi is also allegedly to have accused the Botswana government of supporting corruption by continually awarding tenders to Chinese construction companies even though most of them had been found guilty of bribery.

Armstrongs Attorneys Notaries and Conveyancers, acting for 10 Chinese construction companies, sent a letter to the 'Gazette Newspaper' dated July 16, 2003, in which they said "the article is defamatory and derogatory of all Chinese construction companies operating in Botswana."

The letter stated that the article, together with the comments in it, was intended to defame and injure the good name and reputation of the Chinese companies.

A demand of Pula 10,000,000 in damages was to be paid within ten days, failure to which summons would be issued against the newspaper. The letter also stated that in order to mitigate the damages, there should be an immediate and unconditional retraction of the article and that an apology should be published in a form satisfactory to their clients as they had suffered damages.

But 'Botswana Gazette' Managing Director Clara Olsen has maintained that the article was not defamatory as most of the assertions in the article were of general nature and that the statement was of public interest. The week following the publication of the article, 'Gazette' published a full rebuttal from the Vice-Chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Ben Liu.

In a letter to the Botswana chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Botswana) Mrs Olsen said the newspaper gave equal prominence to both sides, for the sake of balance and right of reply to the Chinese Companies.

- In our view, this indicates a desire on our part to be fair, even handed and impartial, she added. "We believe therefore that we have done all that is necessary to report in a fair, balanced impartial manner."

A similar enquiry was made to another independent local newspaper 'The Mmegi', by the same Chinese Chamber of Commerce, demanding that they print a retraction following a similar report in their newspaper, MISA reports.

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