A legal battle with potentially far-reaching consequences for journalists and their sources is unfolding as Phakiso Molise sues the weekly publication Public Eye for defamation.
Demanding a staggering M1.7 million in damages, Molise alleges that the publication of an article in July 2021 tarnished his reputation and compromised his professional standing.
THE ALLEGATIONS AND CONTROVERSY
The article published by Public Eye was based on leaked letters exchanged between Phakiso Molise and MotÅ¡elise Ramokoae, the former Chairperson of the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA).
According to the letters published by Public Eye, when Molise was a member of the LCA board, he missed a training trip to the United Kingdom (UK) and converted over M60,000 in per diem funds
for personal use.
In the court papers, Molise claims that Public Eyeâ€™s publication of these allegations portrayed him as a thief who misappropriated LCAâ€™s funds for personal gain.
He insists that the information was false and misleading, asserting that the publication did not seek his side of the story before going to press.
LEGAL ACTION AND DAMAGES SOUGHT
In a court document filed last week, LCA and Public Eye are cited as first and second defendants, respectively. He seeks M1.7 million in damages for defamation, holding both parties jointly and/or severally responsible.
â€œPhakiso Molise, a male Mosotho adult of Maseru East in the district of Maseru hereby institutes action against defendants in which action Plaintiff claims; a payment of M1.7 million damages for defamation from the defendants jointly and/or severally, one paying absolving another,â€ read the court papers filed last week.
Molise argues that the publication severely damaged his reputation, leading to adverse consequences in both his personal and professional life.
As a public figure, he alleges that the article caused him to be unfairly labeled a thief, impacting his standing in society and even influencing his loss of position as Chairperson of LCA.
PUBLIC EYE’S ARTICLE
Contrary to Moliseâ€™s claims, Public Eye mentioned in its article that they reached out to him for comment before publishing the article.
Molise reportedly confirmed the authenticity of the letters exchanged with Ramakoae and admitted to repaying the money to LCA. However, he expressed discontent with Ramakoae’s response to his refund proposal.
In his letter to Ramakoae, dated September 23, 2019, he reportedly said: â€œI had been given US$4,100 by the LCA and my understanding is that this money was not my remuneration, it was per diem for a particular purpose, the training which I have not been able to attend.â€
He acknowledged that the money had to be paid back to LCA despite that â€œindeed I had started using it in preparation for the trip but it is not the LCA businessâ€.
â€œMy only appeal is that I be allowed to bring it back by deducting 50 percent of my allowances and/or any remuneration from now until otherwise fully paid. The main reason is that I have now used it to fight a court battle which is now interfering with my LCA operations,â€ Molise said.
IMPACT ON MOLISE’S LIFE
In his court application, Molise highlights the far-reaching repercussions of the publication on his life. He claims to have faced social media backlash, being branded a thief by the public.
Additionally, he asserts that he lost his position as Chairperson of LCA, and his contract was not renewed, citing the â€œfalse allegationsâ€ as a contributing factor. Moreover, Molise claims that the accusations have affected his political ambitions, leading him to forgo standing for elections in his constituency.
Furthermore, Molise contends that his business, Maqhubu World Trade, which sells ammunition, suffered significant losses in sales due to the negative publicity.