Mukete Victor & Ors Vs N.b.c (1961) LLJR-SC

Mukete Victor & Ors Vs N.b.c (1961)

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BRETT, AG. C.J.F

This is an appeal from the decision of the High Court of the Southern Cameroons dismissing the claims of the plaintiffs Victor Mukete, John Mukete and Chief Abel Mukete in three consolidated actions for damages for defamation.

The defamation complained of consists of the following passage in a news programme broadcast by the first respondent on the 4th and 6th July, 1960,

Mr. Daniel Ebako, C.P.N.C. opposition member in the Kumba Town Council, has called on a Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of both the Market and Land Committee of the Council.

He said that areas of land are being allocated to non-natives without consultation and that some section had also been transferred by the Health Officers without documents of transfer. He alleged that some Missionary Societies were at present engaged in an extensive acquisition of land without due consultation and therefore wanted the Council to specify the extent of their individual lands.

Continuing Mr. Ebako said that the main aim of calling for an enquiry to be instituted was that not only were the indigenous natives involved in the illegal transfers of land, but those whom he described as outsiders were involved He accused Chief Abel Mukete to have been supporting this group including members of his family.

Continuing, Mr. Ebako opposed the N.A. Land proposals to extend the Kumba Township to a 4 miles radius.

Abel Mukete and John Mukete, but not the plaintiff Victor Mukete; (2) that he was justified in inferring that the broadcast was read from a written script; that it was libel and not slander, and that proof of special damage was not required; but (3) that the occasion was privileged, and as the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (hereinafter called the Corporation) had acted without malice neither it nor the second defendant was liable in damages. In this Court, Mr. Adesanya, who appeared for the appellants, abandoned the appeal against the finding that the publication did not refer to Victor Mukete, and agreed that in view of the concession which he had made in the Court below it was not open to him to question the finding that, as the case for the plaintiffs was framed, if it failed against the Corporation it must fail also against the second defendant. His initial argument was directed solely against the finding that the publication was made on a privileged occasion.

The ground on which privilege is claimed is that the publication was made in the exercise of the statutory duty imposed on the Corporation by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation Ordinance. Section 10 (1) of the Ordinance reads as follows-

It shall be the duty of the Corporation to provide, as a public service independent and impartial broadcasting services by means of wireless telegraphy and by television for general reception within Nigeria.

and Mr. Bentley submits, on behalf of the Corporation, that once it is found, as it has been found in this case, that the Corporation acted without malice and with impartiality no action for defamation will lie in respect of the publication of any item of local news of a kind likely to interest listeners in the part of Nigeria to which the broadcast is specially directed. If the learned trial Judge had not accepted this submission I should hardly have thought it worth serious consideration, and I have no hesitation in rejecting it. If a statutory body wishes to establish that it is exempt from the general law of the land in matters which may gravely affect the reputation of others, it must be able to point either to express words of exemption, or to words imposing a duty of such a nature that exemption is necessarily implied. The duty imposed by the subsection cited above can be carried out adequately without any such exemption, and no implied exemption can be read into it. Counsel further addressed us on the question whether the trial Judge was correct in holding the publication to be a libel and, if he was not, whether it is actionable without proof of special damage. What the Judge said in his judgment was “The great majority of broadcasts in Nigeria are by their nature given from written scripts. I arrive at the inference that the programme “Cameroons Calling” broadcast from Lagos and culled in part from reports received from this territory was read from a written script and I fall in with the generally accepted view that the defamation was libel rather than slander.” No admission had been made on the subject, and although according to popular belief the balance of probability may be in favour of the learned Judge’s inference I do not consider that the internal arrangements of the Corporation can be regarded as a matter of common knowledge so as to entitle the Court to draw such a conclusion with no evidence at all to support it. I would hold therefore, that all that has been proved is a broadcast oral publication, and that if it is actionable at all it must be so as slander, not as libel.

Special damage has not been alleged or proved, and the question arises, whether the publication is actionable as slander without it. I agree with the trial Judge that the publication does not impute a criminal offence, but it is said that the words were spoken of Chief Abel Mukete and John Mukete in relation to offices held by them. This was not pleaded, and although evidence was given as to offices held by these two plaintiffs the publication complained of does not refer to their offices, and no innuendo was pleaded. In these circumstances I do not consider that they can recover damages for slander. I would therefore dismiss the appeal with costs to the Corporation of 25 guineas against the three appellants jointly and severally. The second respondent did not appear and was not represented and I would make no order for costs in his favour.

MBANEFO, C.J

I concur.

BELLAMY, AG. C.J

I concur.


Other Citation: (1961) LCN/0897(SC)

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