Friday, November 29, 2013

Strange But True

The following is an editorial posted on the Caribbean News Now website. The article was published on November 28, 2013.
An apology read out on air in Saint Lucia, which
might charitably be described as craven, represents
a new low in the ongoing practice of media
intimidation by governments in the region
generally and in Saint Lucia in particular, and the
submission to such intimidation by the media. Of course, the situation may be different in Trinidad,
where it seems the media is in bed - literally, as well
as figuratively - with politicians. However, be that as it may, three government
officials in Saint Lucia apparently forced local
broadcaster Timothy Poleon to admit that they
were defamed by his reading on air an article
published by Caribbean News Now on September
25, 2013, entitled "US action against St Lucia may be connected to visa revocation". A summary of subsequent threats of legal action
against Poleon and why, in our considered and
reconsidered opinion, nothing in our article was
defamatory in the first place, may be found here. On Monday, Poleon read the following on Radio
Caribbean International:
On September 25th 2013 an article appeared on a
website entitled US action against Saint Lucia may
be connected to visa revocation. This article
contained statements which were highly
defamatory of certain individuals including the
minister of tourism and creative industries, Honourable Lorne Theophilus; the minister of
foreign affairs, Honourable Alva Baptiste and the
president of the senate, Claudius Francis. Essentially
I stated that, in respect of Mr Baptiste, among other
things, that present day government officials who
were then in opposition supplied the United States government with false information in a successful
bid to discredit a then minister of government. I
also referred to the unimpeded ability of two
government officials to travel to the United States
despite their past criminal conduct. I accept that,
taking into consideration all the surrounding circumstances, ordinary sensible listeners could
and would have come to the conclusion that I was
referring to Mr Theophilus and Mr Francis. I
unreservedly accept and wish to state that the
statements made in respect of these individuals
were and are highly defamatory of them and that there is absolutely no factual basis for such
statements, which allege and insinuate among
other things that these individuals are guilty of an
ethical, immoral and professional and criminal
misconduct. I was wrong to have published these
statements on air or at all. I accept that by publishing this highly defamatory article on air that
I made it my own. I was negligent in that regard. I
wish to take this opportunity on behalf of Radio
Caribbean International and on my own behalf to
apologise for the inevitable injury to their
reputations by my repetition of these malicious and unfounded allegations.
Assuming that the apology was in fact required
purely on the strength of Poleon's reading of our
article in question and no other statements were
involved that may have been made on air at the
time, this must surely be the first case where a
journalist has been forced to apologise for something that was never said in the first place. First of all, the minister of foreign affairs, Alva
Baptiste, apparently thinks our article stated that,
"among other things" (whatever those other things
might be), he is one of the present day Saint Lucian
government officials who were then in opposition
that supplied the United States government with false information in a successful bid to discredit a
then minister of government.
The only mention of Baptiste in our original article
was in connection with his visit to the US Embassy in
Bridgetown, reportedly at the request of the US
government, accompanied by Prime Minister Kenny
Anthony, national security minister Phillip La
Corbiniere; commissioner of police Vernon Francois; and George Deterville (about whom more
at a later date). Since when does a stated visit to Barbados become
an issue of reputational injury, even if it is untrue?
In this case, the fact of the matter is easily proven
one way or the other by the relevant embassy logs.
And what about the other four individuals named
as visiting the embassy? One can only assume that they did not feel as grievously injured as Baptiste
clearly does, for reasons apparently best known to
himself. By thus voluntarily taking ownership of the alleged
provision of false information to the United States
government, does Baptiste have something to hide
of which we were hitherto unaware? If this is so,
thanks for the "heads up". Next, the other two individuals, Theophilus and
Francis, neither of whom were actually named
anywhere in our original article, nevertheless
claimed that they were therein accused of past
criminal conduct. This is also misguided. What we stated was that two
unnamed "prominent Saint Lucian government
officials . have a known history of violent sexual
assault". Again, Theophilus and Francis took
ownership of this assertion. As outlined in our subsequent article, the facts of
the matter are that Theophilus and Francis have
each been accused and formally charged with rape
(more about this later also). However, as previously
made clear, criminal conduct is not substantiated by
allegations, charges or indictments; it has to be proven in a court of law. Nevertheless, Theophilus and Francis apparently
now acknowledge that it was "criminal conduct",
when none was alleged, by us at least, even
though such conduct may have been alleged by
the respective victims and the director of public
prosecutions. Last but not least, why has no approach
whatsoever been made to Caribbean News Now by
the individuals allegedly defamed or their
attorneys, seeking to correct the information
contained in the article in question and requiring an
apology and/or retraction from us? One might in fact argue that Poleon has now
defamed Caribbean News Now by stating that our
article contained statements which were highly
defamatory, when in fact they were not, for the
reasons outlined.


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