A now-defunct weekly newspaper and a political activist who freelanced with it have been ordered to pay Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal a little over $.5 million in compensation for defamation.
On Thursday Justice Robin Mohammed ordered the Mirror Group Publication and Juliet Davy to pay for the publication of two defamatory articles published back in 2016.
In his decision, Mohammed said he found “without hesitation” the words contained in the two articles, published in the Mirror on May 27, 2016, and June 3, 2016, were defamatory.
In them, Davy accused the former housing minister of becoming one of the richest people in TT through corruption.
The columns referred to a list published by website imgur.com, which claimed to identify the 25 richest people in TT. Moonilal appeared fourth on the list, which estimated his personal fortune at $2.58 billion.
Moonilal claimed the re-publication of the erroneous information caused irreparable harm and distress to his professional reputation.
In their defence, the Mirror and Davy admitted to the publication but denied
Defence admitted the publication but denied the words were defamatory or that they contained false allegations in the form of direct statements, or innuendoes on and concerning Moonilal. They advanced a defence of honest comment, made without malice on a matter of public interest premised on Moonilal's being named on the list.
Davy only said she was doing her “journalistic duties” and acted responsibly.
In his decision, Mohammed said the words published “undoubtedly created the impression” of Moonilal being a politician who had amassed unexplainable wealth within a short space of time, and at a time when he was a parliamentarian and not a businessman or heir to a throne.
“It leaves the impression on the minds of ordinary readers that the claimant as a politician is of a corrupt nature or how else would he explain such wealth,” the judge said.
He also issued a warning to journalists: “It cannot be that persons who regard themselves as professional journalists, and acknowledge a professional duty to professional responsibility, would write articles based on a document found disseminating on the Internet without first seeking to verify its contents.
“While freedom of speech is a pillar of every democratic society, with this freedom comes the onus of responsibility; a responsibility that journalists ought to regard with upmost severity, particularly when articles are contained in a weekly paper,” he added.
Moonilal was represented by attorneys Larry Lalla and Vivek Lakhan-Joseph. Attorneys Michael Quamina and Gitanjali Gopeesingh represented the Mirror Group and Davy.