DEVANT Maharaj, despite his claims to the contrary, is not a journalist.
In his decision on Maharaj’s judicial review claim of unequal treatment, because he was not given access to the government’s daily virtual media briefings on covid19, Justice Kevin Ramcharan said, “on the evidence that he has provided, it cannot be said that he is a journalist.”
Maharaj, who has described himself as a social media journalist, said he was discriminated against after Communications Minister Donna Cox denied him access to the daily media briefings, while she granted access to other online journalists.
He said he was entitled to be treated equally and fairly as he was an established and legitimate social media journalist with a large online following.
The judge was expected to deliver his decision on Friday, but brought it up to Wednesday.
“Firstly, the mere fact that he has a substantial following on social media is insufficient to say that he is a journalist. Many people have substantial followings on social media,” the judge said.
He said it was clear Maharaj also did not consider himself a journalist, since in the descriptions on both his Facebook pages, he calls himself a politician, not a journalist.
“He certainly sees himself as a politician before journalist. It is the court’s view that he has only recently put on the cloak of a journalist to access the VMCs and other such fora. At best he is a journalist of convenience,” he added.
Ramcharan also said it was remarkable that Maharaj could provide no evidence of the existence of his D News Network (DNN.)
“I am left with the inevitable inference that DNN exists only in the mind of the claimant and is not a bona fide entity at all,” the judge said.
Maharaj, who was represented by attorneys Anand Ramlogan, SC, singled out other social media entities, including blogger Rhoda Bharath, who, he complained, was given access to the media briefings by the minister.
“His main focus was on Ms Bharath,” the judge said, adding it could be said that when someone describes themselves as a blogger, they are more likely than not engaging in the activities of a journalist.
He said Bharath was not a suitable comparator to Maharaj, since, according to his own evidence, she was an online journalist, and while a harsh critic of the Opposition UNC, could be described as a journalist.
The judge also said the former UNC minister could not argue his right to freedom of the press was breached, nor his right to the protection to the law. The judge also threw out Maharaj’s claim that he was treated unfairly and held that he failed to pass the threshold test that he had an arguable ground for judicial review with a reasonable prospect of success.
Along with Ramlogan, attorneys Renuka Rambhajan, Jared Jagroo, and Douglas Bayley represented Maharaj.
The minister and the Attorney General were represented by Reginald Armour, SC, Vanessa Gopaul, Rishi Dass, Savitri Mahraj, Tenille Ramkissoon and Andella Ramroop.
In a statement, Maharaj said he has instructed his attorneys to appeal the ruling all the way to the Privy Council.
"I firmly maintain that I have been denied equality of treatment by the State, and as such, my constitutional rights violently infringed upon," he said.