Justice Brassington Reynolds yesterday denied an application by counsel for President Bharrat Jagdeo, Anil Nandlall, to have the Kaieteur News retract one of its headlines in relation to the libel suit brought against it and one of its columnists, Frederick Kissoon.
Nandlall was seeking to have the judge reprimand the newspaper for its headline ‘Court hears Black candidates overlooked for DPP position” and for him to direct the Kaieteur News to be fair and responsible in its reporting.
Nandlall argued that the headline shows that the newspaper is advancing an agenda, and he will object to any move to use the case as a platform for matters extraneous to the subject.
President Jagdeo is suing for $10 million, claiming that a column entitled “King Kong sent his goons to disrupt the conference” pointed to Jagdeo as King Kong. The President has claimed that the article suggests that he is a racist and that “by extension, the State and Government of Guyana, practice racism as an ideology, dogma, philosophy and policy.”
The President’s attorney pointed out to the court, two instances where the newspaper was, according to him, not being balanced.
He cited the August 25 report which he said did not truly reflect the evidence given by chief witness Dr Roger Luncheon, with regards to the granting of contracts. He then pointed to yesterday’s article which he stated was an attempt by the newspaper to pronounce on the findings of the case.
According to Nandlall, yesterday’s headline was simply a conclusion by the Kaieteur News.
“Kaieteur News, which is a party with interests to serve in this matter, is taking out positions of evidence which suits their purpose,” Nandlall told the court.
He stated that the case involves persons of a particular calibre and it deals with sensitive issues.
“The (KN) reports are designed to incite certain passions,” Nandlall said.
In response, Nigel Hughes, counsel for one of the respondents, Frederick Kissoon, said that he was not too sure if Nandlall wanted the judge to play the role of editor or if he was advocating that the newspaper be cited for contempt.
According to Hughes, Nandlall is inviting the judge to go into areas that the Court cannot.
“Court has no power to tell the newspaper what it can carry,” Hughes argued.
With regards to Nandlall’s reference to the pronouncement on the evidence by the Kaieteur News, Hughes said that the question of influence only impacts on a case that involves a jury.
“This court will not be influenced by the Kaieteur News report, unless he (Nandlall) is saying that you (Justice Reynolds) are vulnerable. We do not hold any suspicion that the court will be influenced by a newspaper headline,” Hughes reasoned.
He said that based on the evidence presented by Dr. Luncheon, the Kaieteur News had the right to conclude that persons were overlooked for the position of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
He questioned whether Nandlall’s motive was to intimidate the Kaieteur News with regards to what it prints.
“They are free to publish what they want but if they publish what is not said in court then it could be contempt.”
The attorney accused Nandlall of calling on the court to exercise editorial control in a democratic society.
“I am challenging my learned friend to prove that the court has that right,” Hughes stated.
After listening to both sides, Justice Reynolds announced that he would not pronounce on the quality of reporting in the matter.
He stated that he has challenged himself not to read the reports on the case in the media, although he made it clear that it will in no way influence his decisions.
“I don’t have the power to order a retraction (of the headline). I don’t want to say to a newspaper what angle to take and how much is to be reported. However, what is reported should be what transpired in court,” Justice Reynolds said.
“Conclusions and inferences are beyond my jurisdiction, except when they become contemptuous,” he added.
After that matter was cleared up, the parties then proceeded with the real issue at hand, the continuation of the cross examination of Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon.
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