CENTRAL BROADCASTING Services Ltd – the parent company of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha’s radio and television station Jaagriti – has lost its legal challenge against alleged sanctions by the Telecommunications Authority of TT’s (TATT) over statements by the religious body’s late head broadcast in May 2019.
TATT had found that a recording on CBSL’s Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme contained “disturbing statements” by Maharaj which TATT found “divisive and inciteful.”
Maharaj’s statements led to a raid on the station, and police seized several recordings.
Attorneys for CBSL accused the authority of breaching its own policy, governing act and principles of common-law fairness when it made its findings and did so without due process.
On Thursday, Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell dismissed CBSL’s application for judicial review.
She said although CBSL raised issues of procedural unfairness and breaches of natural justice that had a realistic prospect of success, the court exercised its discretion to refuse leave, on the basis that there was an adequate alternative remedy available, which TATT had offered to the company.
The authority denied it sanctioned CBSL, but said it simply issued warnings to the broadcaster and reminded it of its obligations as a concessionaire. In writing to CBSL, the authority said it referred the matter to its board and invited the company to make representations to the board to determine whether Maharaj’s statements were offensive and whether it had acted in breach of Concession Clause D9.
This was the alternative remedy the judge referred to. She said CBSL failed to access the opportunity TATT provided.
“The opportunity for reconsideration by the board ought to have been accessed as the primary recourse to the relief sought. The defendant is therefore the successful party in this litigation,” she held.
However, Donaldson-Honeywell said CBSL’s need to rush to the court was understandable because of the language TATT used in its earlier correspondence to the company.
“This off-putting tone emanating from the defendant which may have caused the claimant to forgo making representations to the board when offered the opportunity to do so, continued after this claim was filed.
“There is merit to the claimant’s submission that the point made by counsel for the defendant that the claimant ‘got off light(ly) with a simple warning’ is perhaps demonstrative of the judgmental tone in communications from TATT when offering an opportunity to be heard,” she said.
In the Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme, aired in April 2019, Maharaj referred to Tobagonians as lazy and criminally minded.
In her decision, the judge said Tobago’s population was made up of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, although primarily of African descent. She said Tobagonians have contributed to nation-building and enhanced the image of TT at the highest levels in the fields of politics, sport, entertainment, business, religion, tourism, academia, agriculture, medicine, the arts, the legal profession, business and public administration, among others.
CBSL was represented by attorneys Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh and Stefan Ramkissoon. TATT was represented by Douglas Mendes, SC, and Gabrielle Gellineau.