THE STATE will have to compensate a Siparia man for a broadcast on local television station Caribbean Communications Network (CCN) after his photograph was wrongly shown on its Beyond the Tape crime programme’s ‘Most Wanted’ segment in 2015.
The order was made by Justice Vasheist Kokaram in a ruling delivered in the San Fernando High Court yesterday. The crime programme is broadcast daily on CCN's TV6 channel. Ricardo Eric Charles sued CCN for defamation and the Attorney General for false imprisonment.
“I will begin this judgment with a declaration exonerating the claimant in no uncertain terms as in my view this is one of the most important aspects of defamation claims which goes beyond any award of damages," the judge said. It was alleged in the broadcast that Charles was a wanted man for an outstanding warrant on the criminal charge for driving without a driver’s permit.
The photograph was broadcast on several occasions in May 2015. “The truth that the claimant was neither a suspect nor in any way associated with that charge, far from “limping” after the false news, was never published by the Defendants.
“The Defendants’ publication was an error.” There was another person with the same name who was wanted by the police. “It was a case of publishing the right name but wrong image,” the judge said. He accepted the television station's defence that the broadcast was protected by the public interest defence of Reynold's privilege, and had satisfied the test of responsible journalism.
However, he said the station took no steps to verify the information and that the police was very "loose, reckless and irresponsible" in information gathering and communication. "There was absolutely nothing urgent for the TTPS (unknown to the First Defendant) to publish this information about a warrant that was six years-old without first doing a proper check. The arm to one's reputation for outweighed the importance of publishing material on a dated outstanding warrant."
He added that after Charles voluntarily went to the Santa Flora Police Station to clear his name, “to add insult to injury,” when the error was discovered, his picture was eventually taken down from the show, not by way of an apology or mistake, but by broadcasting that he had “surrendered to the police”.
Kokaram said although there was a distinction between libel and slander, there was the assumption that the former was more insidious than the latter.
“However, in many cases, falsehood by means of broadcasts can “fly” much faster that a falsehood reduced in writing. In this age of information where data moves seamlessly and instantaneously beyond borders and beyond physical barriers, the truth will always come limping long after the false news has long spread.
The judge suggested that the common law distinction between libel and slander for broadcasts ought to be abolished. He welcomed parliamentary intervention, but said if judges created the artificial distinction between libel and slander, then they can remove it by recognising its irrelevance in modern forms of communication.
In his ruling, the judge did not find in favour with Charles’ false imprisonment claim and dismissed it. He also ordered the State to pay Charles his costs quantified in the sum of $16,000, as well as the television station's costs. Charles was represented by Earle Martin James and Tyril Boudeth while Farees F. Hosein and Carolyn Ramjohn-Hosein represented CCN and Brenston Francois and Ryanka Ragbir for the State.