SOCIAL and political activist Devant Maharaj’s appeal of a judge’s ruling that he was not a journalist is not urgent enough to be heard during the court’s covid19 emergency period.
Maharaj appealed last Wednesday’s decision by Justice Kevin Ramcharan to dismiss his judicial review claim. On Wednesday, his application to have the appeal deemed urgent was denied by Justices of Appeal Peter Rajkumar and Vasheist Kokaram.
Maharaj was ordered to pay the State’s costs for senior and one junior counsel. Directions were given for filing submissions in June and August. In October a date will be set to hear the substantive appeal.
Maharaj, who has described himself as a social media journalist, said he was discriminated against after he was denied access to the government’s daily virtual media briefings by Communications Minister Donna Cox 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.
Ramcharan held Maharaj failed to provide evidence to prove he was a journalist.
“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 called 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.
In his notice to appeal, Maharaj argued that the judge’s findings were contrary to law and went against the weight of his evidence presented to the court.
He also argued that the judge erred by requiring him to prove he was a journalist to be granted access to the media briefings.
“The issue was not whether the appellant was a journalist but rather, whether he had previously proven he was treated differently despite being similarly circumstances to other persons from the group of non-traditional social media personalities who were invited to the VCMs,” the notice of appeal said.
He also criticised what he termed as the judge’s “fixation” with the fact that he described himself as a politician to the extent that the “blinded” the judge to the fact that he was opting for form over substance since the real issue was whether he operated in a similar manner to other online voices.