Blantyre Senior Resident Magistrate’s Court on Thursday threw out a request by businessperson Abdul Karim Batatawala to ban the media from covering his ongoing corruption case.
Batatawala, facing corruption charges alongside three other persons at Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services, asked the court through one of his lawyers to censure or ban the media, particularly Nation Publications Limited (NPL) and Zodiak Broadcasting Station for what he called “skewed coverage”.
But presiding magistrate Martin Chipopya threw out the request, stating that the media plays a role in delivery of justice and that the defence cited no law to necessitate a ban on the media.
The magistrate said he was constrained to act on the request, asking the accused person, if he felt aggrieved, to take the matter to enforcement agencies.
Private practice lawyer Alex Nampota, representing Batatawala, told the court at the beginning of the case that his client was concerned over how the media covered Wednesday’s proceedings and some previous coverage.
He said the media made reference to inflated figures in the contract Batatawala’s company, Africa Commercial Agency, had with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services in the purchase of lockers, arguing such issues were never discussed during Wednesday’s hearing.
Nampota feared if the court was to come up with a judgement that clears the accused persons, the integrity of the court could be thrown into disrepute as the public might begin questioning how the court arrived at its verdict.
He said there was need to present both sides of the case, from the prosecution and the defence. He said it was their expectation that the media would realise that in such proceedings, the idea was to get to the bottom of the truth.
Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director general Martha Chizuma, asked by the court to comment on the concerns raised against the media, declined to say anything.
She said: “No comment on that, I am not the media.”
Meanwhile, the court has adjourned the case to September 6 to 8 this year and ACB is expected to parade more witnesses.
ACB arrested the four in December last year in relation to suspected corrupt practices in the procurement of contracts for uniforms and other accessories at the Immigration Department.
The suspects are accused of conspiracy to defraud by inflating the market price of 500 lockers procured by the department from Africa Commercial Agency under contract number IM/01/85 dated March 22 2010 valued at K2 950 560 per unit price totalling K1 475 280 000.
Batatawala is facing trial alongside former chief immigration officer Elvis Thodi, the department’s commissioner responsible for operations, Fletcher Nyirenda and deputy director Limbani Chawinga.