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$450,000 award for offensive radio talk
Radio station 104.7 More FM has been ordered to pay a little over $450,000 in compensation to businessmen Junior Sammy and three of his companies over defamatory statements made during a talk show programme.
Delivering a 36-page judgment in the San Fernando High Court yesterday, Justice Frank Seepersad ruled that Sammy and his companies were defamed by a series of accusations made on the “Ground Report” between November and December 2016.
While Seepersad ruled that Sammy was entitled to $450,000 in compensation to vindicate his professional reputation, he ruled that his companies Junior Sammy Contractors Ltd, Jusamco Pavers Ltd and Sammy’s Multilift Services Ltd only deserved nominal damages as they were unable to provide financial records, which showed that their business interests were directly affected by the offensive allegations.
“Although the words complained of were significant, the court took judicial notice of the fact, that the corporate claimants continue to receive substantial contracts, including government contracts, the most recent being the extension of the Point Fortin Highway along the Mosquito Creek,” Seepersad said as he ruled that each company was entitled to $7,500 in compensation.
Sammy and his companies sued the radio station and the hosts of the programme Andy Williams and Lennox Smith after they made allegations that he (Sammy) had corruptly obtained government contracts.
In its defence, the radio station, through its owners Robert and Sharon Amar, claimed that it should not be held liable as it did not manage the programme which was broadcast on airtime purchased by Williams and Smith.
Although Williams and Smith initially sought to rely on the defence of fair comment, they eventually settled the claim and were removed from the lawsuit before it went to trial, in March.
Sammy and his companies continued to pursue the claim against the radio station.
In his judgment, Seepersad first decided whether the statements could be considered libel or slander. Libel deals with written defamatory statements while slander deals with oral defamatory statements.
As he ruled that the talk show statements constituted libel based on the fact that it was broadcast internationally on the radio station’s website.
“Radio broadcasts can reach a wide audience and it can cause as much or even more harm than a newspaper report,” Seepersad said.
He called for Parliament to consider amending T&T colonial age legislation to bring it in line with international developments in defamation law.
“The law in this jurisdiction needs to be reviewed especially given the fact that talk shows have become the norm and there are numerous ‘call in’ programmes where persons regularly make highly offensive and defamatory remarks,” Seepersad said.
He noted that in England the law had developed to provide a defence for companies like the radio station, which currently can be held liable for defamatory statements made by third parties on its platform.
Seepersad sought to give advice to radio stations on how to avoid similar situations until legislative intervention occurs.
“The implementation of time delays, the implementation of a pre-recorded broadcast policy and the inclusion of indemnification policies as between the station and third party should be considered and adopted,” Seepersad said.
In 2015, television host Ian Alleyne was ordered to pay Sammy, his companies and his son Shaun, $600,000 in compensation for defamation over statements related to him (Shaun) being charged for drunk driving in 2014.
Alleyne failed to pay the money by the deadline and the Sammys levied on Alleyne’s home to recoup it. He eventually paid.
Sammy and his companies were represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, and Ronnie Bissessar
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