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The mountain of lies by the Opposition

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Fri, Sept 14, 2012

Editor: Currently in the USA, the Republicans are displaying their mastery at distorting President Obama’s record to the point of utter falsehood and at inventing “facts”, that is to say, telling a string of awful lies and barefaced untruths. That has been their methodology for quite some time.{{more}} In this regard, and many other disreputable instances, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) and their fellow-travellers have been doing the same thing in St Vincent and the Grenadines with their anti-ULP and Ralph-hating campaign. Sadly, some unsuspecting and non-partisan journalists, in both the print and electronic media, have fallen prey to repeating or even endorsing the array of NDP and other oppositionists’ falsehoods.

As journalists and responsible commentators we must have a duty to seek truth from facts. It is natural, and understandable, for persons to hold different opinions but not different facts. Opinions may be right or wrong, but they must be based on a matrix of facts. Indeed, that is the basis for the defence of “fair comment” to a civil claim of defamation. The defence of “fair comment” centres on an opinion drawn from facts, made without malice, on a matter in the public domain. So, there must be a factual basis and absence of malice. Malice can be inferred from the very nature of the defamatory statement, made without a factual matrix.

The law in this regard is common sense. That is why it is called “common law”, sensible wisdom handed down through the ages. Beyond the law is the virtue of truth-saying. Each of us from time-to-time may be guilty of not telling the truth, but if it causes no damage or harm to another person, people do not get exercised about it. In private spaces, for example family or domestic situations, this or that spouse may lie to another, but that concerns not the innocent by-stander; it is relevant only in the family and in the liar’s relationship with his/her God.

But journalists, commentators, and public figures should always be careful not to be untruthful on matters of public policy. Sometimes, one or the other may fall short of this duty of care; upon realising the untruthfulness of a statement, the maker ought swiftly to correct it with the appropriate “mea culpa” or apology. What is entirely unacceptable is a deliberate campaign of lies, innuendoes, slander, libel and reckless distortions (not caring whether the statement is true or not). It is this anti-ULP and anti-Ralph campaign of untruth by the NDP and other oppositionists that is so despicable. The venom and malice in the falsehoods directed particularly at PM Gonsalves have given rise to defamation actions by him. The defamers then become holier-than-thou; they look for every excuse for their defamation; they even bring supposed “bona fide” journalists to their defence. In all this, one thing is forgotten: the defamer told an untruth, which was done with malice, and it caused damage to another person’s character and reputation among right-thinking persons.

Several NDP activists and anti-Ralph oppositionists, including Edwardo Lynch, Matthew Thomas, Daniel Cummings, and “NICE Radio” have all had High Court judgments against them for defaming Ralph Gonsalves. Still, the mountain of lies and the campaign of distortion continue unabated. They continue this stratagem even after three consecutive electoral defeats. They seem to believe that lies and untruths would get them to their version of the Political Kingdom! Their lies, sadly, pollute the political process. This is not only my view but those of respected Vincentians in the diaspora, such as Simon Anderson, Wade Williams, and Maxwell Haywood.

Fact-checking by responsible, non-partisan journalists is thus required in this context. Sadly, this duty is not being fulfilled. A bundle of reasons accounts for this: laziness; a failure and/or refusal to accept a basic journalistic responsibility; an inchoate perversity arising from a mistaken desire to give the government and Ralph a bloody nose for no good reason whatsoever; and the pursuit of unstated personal agendas, sometimes grounded in vanity.

The NDP and assorted Ralph-haters are unlikely to change their dishonest approach in very much the same way that the Republicans and the Obama-haters continue their campaign of lies in the USA. But at least in the USA, independent journalists are sifting the facts from the lies; in SVG, mainstream journalism oftentimes repeats or facilitates the lies and distortions. Thus my plea for fact-checking. The Editors have their work cut out for them.

Hans King
Press Secretary
Office of the Prime Minister