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Defreitas believes we have a flawed judicial system

Defreitas believes we have a flawed judicial system


Broadcaster Douglas “Dougie” De Freitas of NICE Radio believes that a 1990 Privy Council ruling in an Antigua and Barbuda case gives media practitioners the right to lie on public officials.{{more}}

He was referring to a case in which the London-based body ruled that “it would be a grave impediment to the freedom of the press, if those who print, or fortiori those who distribute, matter reflecting critically on the conduct of public authorities could only do so with impunity if they could first verify the accuracy of all statements of fact on which the criticism was based”.

De Freitas has citied the ruling in defending his station in a lawsuit Prime Minister Dr Gonsalves brought against opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) talk show host, Elwardo “E.G.” Lynch and NICE Radio, for statements Lynch broadcast on the station about Gonsalves’ alleged use of state funds.

The appeals court upheld the lower court’s order for the station to pay Gonsalves EC$250,000.

DeFreitas told a local television talk show host that he does not know if he is looking down the barrel of a gun, as Gonsalves’ lawyer has asked the court to appoint a receiver.

That matter will be heard in court later this month and DeFreitas said his counsel is responding seriously to the application, a point he also made in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT last week.

“It is my personal opinion and my belief that we have a flawed judicial system,” he said on the television programme, broadcast last weekend.

“It is said because of a Privy Council ruling. There is a Privy Council ruling in Antigua that the precedence, the ruling was set already that those who fortiori or foretell, whether it be electronic media or print media, not having information, can speak half-truths, even lies…” De Freitas said, adding that this applied to matters that are in “the interest of the public” and not for private matters.

“Prime Minister Gonsalves is not a private citizen. … He is a public figure and the ruling from the Privy Council spoke tothat issue, and, I would say, basically ruled in my favour,” he said.

“The difficulty that I have is that no judge within this jurisdiction accepts that as my defence. Not that they don’t accept it as the Privy Council ruling, but they are saying ‘Hey, we don’t want to touch that.’ And I believe the judges don’t want to offend prime ministers of the region because they appoint the Judicial and Services Commission who then appoint the judges.”

The Privy Council in a ruling handed down in 2004, however, said that “The protection of good reputation is conducive to the public good. It is also in the public interest that the reputation of public figures should not be debased falsely. Their Lordships are therefore satisfied that the objective of an offence that catches those who attack a person’s reputation by accusing him, falsely, of crime or misconduct in public office is sufficiently important to justify limiting the right to freedom of expression.”

De Freitas, in last Sunday’s interview, however, said he does not belief in slander and has telephoned into the station’s programmes to tell the hosts that they should not be saying certain things on air. (KXC)