Kaieteur News has faced a battery of libel suits of late. I am against libel lawsuits except in the rarest of circumstances. I believe the motif behind libel is silencing of the media. Thus, I am terribly disappointed at the turn of events in Guyana on the recent libel filed by Mr. Sase Singh, CEO of Guysuco, against Kaieteur News.
At one time, Singh was a columnist for KN. As a public official, he ought to be tolerant of critiques (criticisms). I am not a public official. Yet I tolerate, all kinds of criticisms (some considered as attacks on me) of my writings. So does Mr. Freddie Kissoon who has refused to use the court to silence critics.
A free press is an effective way to hold public figures accountable. The court should side with the public and the press giving them wide latitude to criticize as is done in the US, India, and matured democracies. The lawsuits against KN is a reminder of what occurred during the reign of Burnham and Hoyte dictatorships. They used the court to censor the press filing lawsuits against against newsletters and newspapers. Burnham and Hoyte controlled the courts and the judges. The Catholic Standard and Dayclean were abused in countless libel cases in court for penning the truth about the oppression suffered by Guyanese.
Mr. Sase Singh claims that three commentaries in KN last December libeled (defamed) him. I believe they were fair commentaries — complaint of his leadership style and in response to two fellow media operatives who penned that Mr. Singh was cleaning up the company of those riding the gravy train. Two friends of Sase were defending him against criticisms of staff. The staff retorted — they utilized the right to a reply principle in journalism. Sase also had a right to reply. he didn’t use it. the court isn’t the way to settle it.
I was/am of the view that Singh should be given an opportunity to run Guysuco. But he is not above critique. As a public company, the public has a right to comment on the leadership of an entity – good and or bad, praiseworthy and or critical. And they did. Thus, I am of the view the Singh suit is frivolous and of nuisance value. Off course, the court (not me) will now decide on the merits of the matter.
It was all good to write about how Singh was “busting up the gravy train” but when exposed that others in management at Guysuco are also benefiting, Mr. Singh chose to silence the critic (via a lawsuit) rather than allow ongoing exposure of those riding the gravy train. No one should ride the gravy train; hard working laborers should enjoy perks of Guysuco, not management. Using the KN suit as a precedent, those who were accused of riding the gravy train and were terminated as a result of such belief should seek a day in court against Guysuco management.
All the commentators about Guysuco will have their day in court. I can see terminated and resigned staff and laborers and former Directors and management staff coming to court to give testimony on leadership and who was/is riding the gravy train. It will be an interesting case. A lot will be exposed.
I am on the side of a free press and against libel. As someone who studied constitutional law, American judges allow a wide latitude of views in the media. Only when deliberate malice is proven, can a libel be won, and rarely was malice proven in an American court. US Supreme Court judges tend to struck down lower court judgments on libel or slander. In other words, judges tend to side with the right to free press and fair comment.
As for compensation in libel, it is only awarded based on real loss of income attributed to the malice. If no loss of income is suffered, then there is no compensation in the white man country. I do not know if Singh suffered a loss of income since December as a result of the three published articles.
KN lost previous lawsuits to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. I believe judges erred. If these cases were to be appealed to the CCJ, I think they would be reversed or the amount of compensation would be significantly reduced. Appeals at the Privy Council from other Caribbean territories were reversed and or libel amount awarded reduced. I do not think the claimants against KN can prove they suffered loss of income as a result of ‘libelous’ articles published on them.
I appeal to public officials, don’t be thin skinned on criticism!