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Judge Rules in favour of Gordon

Basdeo Panday
Basdeo Panday lost again

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Ken Gordon

January 29, 2001

Hearing for stay in Appeal Court today

ATTORNEYS representing Prime Minister Basdeo Panday are today scheduled to apply to an Appeal Court judge for a stay of execution of last year’s judgment ordering the Prime Minister to pay more than $600,000 in damages to Caribbean Communications Network (CCN) chairman Ken Gordon.

Justice Peter Jamadar had on October 11 ruled that the Prime Minister pay the sum to Gordon for calling Gordon a “pseudo-racist”.

The application for the stay which was filed last year by Dipnarine Rampersad and Company in the Appeal Court was supposed to be heard on January 8 but was postponed to today.

October 11, 2000
Compiled by A. H. Hotep

Sitting in the San Fernando High Court yesterday, Justice Peter Jamadar ordered Prime Minister Basdeo Panday to pay Caribbean Communication Network chairman Ken Gordon $696,854.40 for defamation in 1987 remarks in which he (Panday) called Gordon a "pseudo racist". Jamadar made the award at the end of an 81-page judgment in favour of Gordon.

Jamadar concluded: "In my opinion, this evidence points to conduct by the Prime Minister that was wilful and malicious and intended to injure the plaintiff in the worst possible way, given the plaintiff's position in society and the nature of the society."

Panday was ordered to pay compensatory general damage in the sum of $600,000 plus $96,854.40 in interest. He was further ordered to pay the plaintiff's costs certified fit for two advocate attorneys-at-law.

The PM was granted a stay of execution of 14 days in which to pay the award. However, his instructing attorney, Dipnarine Rampersad, indicated that an appeal against the judgment will be filed today.

The conflict between the two developed as follows:

• The Guardian Article

1996. A headline “Chutney rising” angered the PM and he refused to speak to the newspaper until it got rid of Jones P Madeira. As a result, Ken Gordon as CEO of CCN and publishers of Stabroek News and the Nation of Barbados met with the PM to prevail upon him to back away from his position.

• Shiprider Agreement

1997. The US government sought to have signed with Caribbean governments the Shiprider Agreement. The PM had said the newspaper and TV condemned his government on the issue. CCN had criticised the decision of the Government to sign the agreement on its own instead of acting in concert with the rest of its Caribbean partners. The agreement allows US drug officials to enter T&T territorial waters to pursue drug trafficking suspects.

• Green Paper

1997. Gordon opposed the Government’s consultation document on media reform. In that context, Panday delivered an address in Chaguanas on Indian Arrival Day, May 30, saying, “And I call them pseudo-racists because they are not real racists. Real racists are people who look after their race. Pseudo-racists who have divided society to maintain political power and even now are doing so in the hope of political survival. The Ken Gordons who want to maintain his monopolistic advantage over his competitors in the media. My brothers and sisters, they come in many shapes and sizes.”

Pseudo-racist libel case
Mendes: PM has no right to defame

July 25, 2000

THE High Court is being asked to sanction Prime Minister Basdeo Panday’s statement that no one who criticises his Government would escape unscathed.

That is according to Ken Gordon’s attorney, Douglas Mendes, who said Panday, as Prime Minister, does not have the liberty to defame anyone.

Mendes said Gordon had a constitutional right to criticise the Government’s 1997 Green Paper on media reform, which he did on May 7 that year.

“That is what free expression is all about whether the Government likes it or not. The Prime Minister is entitled to respond, but he doesn’t have the liberty to defame anyone.

“You are a politician, you have to take your licks,” Mendes said.

Mendes continued his submissions yesterday in the libel/slander lawsuit brought by Gordon against Panday, being heard before Justice Peter Jamadar in the Port of Spain First Civil Court.

Gordon said Panday brought him into public scandal and disrepute when he allegedly referred to him as a pseudo-racist during an Indian Arrival Day speech on May 30, 1997.

In defence, Panday has said, among other things, that he had a qualified privilege to make the comment. Qualified privilege gives a person a right to reply to an attack. Mendes said there was no evidence in Panday’s speech that he was responding to Gordon’s criticism of the Green Paper.

He described qualified privilege as a shield and not an attack.

“Can it be possible that the law would allow any Government official to respond to any legitimate, constitutionally-protected criticism by defaming that person in the most vile of manners?

“That is what this defence is saying. If you criticise my Government then I am entitled to defame you even though my attack on you really has no connection whatsoever to my criticism.”

Mendes said even if Panday was replying to Gordon’s attack of the Green Paper, “the allegations of pseudo-racist were extraneous.

“It was no question of a defence at all. It was simply an attack.”

Mendes said Panday had no reason to believe that Gordon was a racist and his remarks were motivated by malice.

Justice Ramadar yesterday questioned Panday’s attorney, Sonny Maharaj, SC, about the failure of the defence to disclose the speech the Prime Minister appeared to be reading from that day.

Maharaj said he didn’t think it was relevant. He said he didn’t think that in a case of slander the defence had a duty to disclose all documents.

Mendes had raised the issue while making the point that Panday had gone to the function prepared to slander Gordon, knowing that it would have been published “far and wide”.

“When a Prime Minister makes such an outrageous statement about a prominent businessman then no journalist worth his or her salt would refrain from publishing it.

“It was just as if he [Panday] was holding a press conference.”


Gordon on the stand

July 12, 2000
Extracts from various news reports

Gordon testified yesterday in a lawsuit he brought against the Prime Minister claiming that his character was defamed when Panday called him a “pseudo-racist”.

Panday’s statement was allegedly made on May 30, 1997 during an Indian Arrival Day celebration in Caroni.

The matter began yesterday in the Port of Spain First Civil Court before Justice Peter Jamadar. A ten-minute video clip of Panday’s speech that day was played in court.

Gordon’s attorney Douglas Mendes said Panday’s remarks were understood to mean that Gordon was “a racist, practised racism and fermented racial discord in the society”, and that he did so cynically to protect himself to the detriment of the national good.

As a result, Mendes said, Gordon’s reputation has been injured and his profession as a publisher, businessman and company director has been brought into public scandal.

Panday, through attorney Sonny Maharaj SC, said his remarks were fair comment spoken without malice. He said that he and Gordon were at opposite ends of the political spectrum and the media bodies Gordon associated with have opposed his government on a number of matters. Therefore, he was entitled to criticise Gordon’s political stance, he said.

Gordon said he first heard of Panday’s remarks while walking around the Queen’s Park Savannah around 5.30 a.m. on May 31, 1997.

“A contemporary of mine shouted, ‘boy, Panday call you a big racist’. I then made it my business to find out what it was all about and I learned that TTT had carried a clip of the speech in which I was called a pseudo-racist.”

Gordon said he joined the Express in 1969 as managing director. The newspaper eventually developed into the CCN group and he served as chief executive officer from 1991 to 1997.

He said the Express has a policy statement, developed since 1969, which says, among other things, that the paper is committed to working with the government of the day in doing those things which are considered to be in the national interest.

“We are not partisan in any way. Both the Express and TV6 have been critical of the government from time to time, that is part of the job, but it has always been on the issues,” Gordon said.

He said although the responsibility of the newspaper editorials rests with the publisher, it was more practical for the editor to write the editorials after discussions with the publisher “and unless it is something fundamental, the editor’s view prevails”.

Gordon said he had never publicly criticised the government prior to the release of the Green Paper on media reform in 1997 when, at a function on May 7 that year, he called for the document to be totally withdrawn.

He said the Green Paper proposed measures which were intended to give the government the right to punishthe press when, “in its view, the press behaved irresponsibly or otherwise displeasing”.

“My speech received widespread support. It formed part of an article in the New York Times,” Gordon said.

Panday’s alleged “pseudo-racist” remark came a few weeks later.

Gordon, who served as Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism between 1986 and 1990, said: “Since 1990 I have not been interested in politics. I learnt then that I was not suited for politics at all. I am not a supporter or member of any political party.”
But, he said, he has political opinions which he holds very strongly.


July 13, 2000

Yesterday was the third day of Gordon’s testimony in the personal lawsuit action brought against Panday. Gordon is claiming that Panday called him a “pseudo-racist” during an address at an Indian Arrival Day celebration in May 1997, which caused him public embarrassment and defamed his character.

“I have not taken any personal action against these publications because the media is in the business of reporting news,” Gordon said. “When someone holding as powerful a position and as responsible an office as the Prime Minister makes such serious charges against a law-abiding citizen who makes it known that he tries to live within the law, that is big news.

“If in publishing that news, the media run the risk of litigation, that is a chance [they] sometimes have to take. I know because I’ve been there. But my concern is not with people trying to do their jobs even though they run a risk in doing so.

“So, in my judgment, the public right to know has an almost equal importance; and this is an assessment that has to be made on a case-by-case basis. In this instance, my concern was not going after people who are attempting to do their business, but to get at the source of the deep hurt and the source of the public scandal against me.

“I also considered it important to send a powerful message, to not only this prime minister but all prime ministers, that they are not above the law and they must respect the rights of ordinary citizens.”

Sonny Maharaj SC, who appeared for Panday, asked: “So you preferred to go against (the Prime Minister because) you wanted to teach him a lesson?”

Gordon replied: “Because he publicly humiliated me and I thought he was the source, and I thought it necessary to contain the extent of the damage and to get justice in the court.”

Maharaj then put to Gordon that he was taking a political stand instead of a personal one, by suing the Prime Minister and not the newspapers.

“No, it positively was not a political act,” Gordon said. “As a citizen of this country, I was deeply aggrieved and my concern was with the source of that. As a publisher, I understood that newspapers have a responsibility to inform the public when prime ministers make such damaging accusations against law-abiding citizens. There was absolutely no politics, as I understand the word, involved in my decision.”

At the same time, Gordon agreed that newspapers had no right to publish such matters “with impunity”.

Maharaj also questioned Gordon on his views concerning the controversial Washington-based Shiprider agreement, which Government signed in 1997. The agreement allows US drug interdiction agencies unimpeded access to this country’s territorial waters and airspace in pursuit of drug dealers.

“Was there any political difference between you and Government with respect to that agreement?” Maharaj asked.

While Gordon never actually stated he had a political difference with respect to the agreement, he said he thought the manner and time in which Government entered into that agreement “was wrong”. He said before Government agreed, it should have consulted with “other Caribbean interests so that we could act collectively in our own best interest”.

The other witnesses who gave evidence yesterday were journalists Tony Fraser and Richard Lord.

Fraser pointed out to the court that the part of the Prime Minister’s Indian Arrival Day speech, during which the remarks in question were uttered, was used in a Panorama broadcast. The entire speech was presented to the court, but not all of it was used in news reports.

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On September 28, Justice Sebastian Ventour ruled Panday had shown bias by intervening to exclude CCN's proposal for a cell phone service licence, and ordered the Prime Minister not to have anything to do with the future handling of the CCN application. more...

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