CONTRACTOR Junior Sammy won a $400,000 libel lawsuit yesterday in which More FM radio was ordered to pay for statements made by hosts of the Ground Report programme who accused Sammy of dishonesty in securing Government contracts.
Junior Sammy Contractors Ltd and Jusamco Players Ltd are continuing construction of the highway to Point Fortin. Justice Frank Seepersad ordered in the San Fernando High Court that the radio station, owned by Robert Amar, pay Sammy $450,000 and two of his companies $7,500 each, saying that radio broadcasts reach wider audiences and can cause more harm than newspaper reports. In a 36-page judgment, he said given the numerous call-in radio programmes where people make offensive and defamatory remarks, TT’s libel laws need to be reviewed.
The Ground Report is a live call-in programme on weekdays during which the hosts deal with general issues.
Sammy, Jusamco and Sammy’s Multilift Services Ltd, sued the station and hosts Andy Williams and Lennox Smith, for the allegation made on November 28, December 1 and 2 and 8, 2016. Attorneys Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC and Ronnie Bissessar argued the case for Sammy and his companies. In delivering the judgment yesterday, Seepersad said the station ought to have taken reasonable care to insert a disclaimer on the programme, denouncing the libellous statements.
“The implementation of time-delays, pre-recorded broadcasts policy and inclusion of indemnification policies between the station and the third party, should be considered and adopted.” Ruling that the words used were defamatory, the judge said there must be some statutory intervention to facilitate the broadcaster with, what is known in England as, secondary responsibility as a defence.
“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. The Defamation Act of 1966 in England and Wales provides for defences to a defendant for secondary responsibility in the publication of defamatory matter, but without statutory intervention these defences do not apply to Trinidad and Tobago.”
He went on to warn that the right to broadcast cannot be taken lightly and especially for commercial advantage where air-time is contracted out, steps must be taken to ensure that the privilege to broadcast is not violated.