Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says he has accepted the apology of NICE Radio, which, in Jan. 17 newscasts said that he owns two aircraft leased by LIAT.
Gonsalves is chair of LIAT’s shareholder governments – St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica.
The information in the newscasts came from an anonymous writer on the Barbados-based blog, “Barbados Free Press”.
Douglas De Freitas, managing director of NICE Radio, which last year paid Gonsalves EC$206,000 for defamation, called Gonsalves to apologise after two NICE Radio broadcasters read the story on air.
De Freitas, a cousin of Gonsalves who has been critical of his leadership style, also apologised during in his “In-Gear” programme.
“He has apologized. I accept the apology and I don’t know what else he is going to do,” Gonsalves told I-Witness News.
“I’ve always said that if somebody says something, writes something, which is defamatory of me and either on their own realizes that it is defamatory and they should apologise forthwith, I would accept it,” said Gonsalves, a lawyer, who has successfully sued several persons for defamation since coming to office in 2001.
“The problem here with NICE Radio though is that there is a campaign of vilification carried on by Nice Radio. And though I accept the apology on this occasion, particularly in the climate of this natural disaster — we are trying to have healing — it doesn’t mean that if they are so reckless again, and they apologise that I would simple accept the apology.
“… an apology only reduces in some way the extent of the damage and loss, which somebody would have to pay in a court. And depending on how that person had been behaving, the extent of that apology would not count for much in reducing the damages,” Gonsalves further said.
“I am always reminded what [former premier] Ebenezer Joshua used to say: that if you take a 20-penny nail and you drive it in a piece of wood and then you take out the 20-penny nail, the nail is no longer there but it leaves a hole. You can’t go about and damaging people’s character like this.”
Gonsalves said he is not asking the station to pay any damages, but had suggested that they make a contribution to two charities.
“I said in the circumstances of the country and they have been so recklessness, they may, of their own volition, consider that it might be a worthwhile thing to give the Salvation Army $5,000 and give Red Cross $5,000. I am not demanding it. I was only making a comment,” Gonsalves said.
He added that while De Freitas said his staff acted out of ignorance and inadvertently, his comments on his “In-Gear” programme on Jan. 20 suggested that he believed the story.
“Duggie De Freitas is not a journalist. Duggie De Freitas is a political activist who is on radio. And his radio station doesn’t hold out anything when it deals with politics, other than it is partisan to the NDP (New Democratic Party) and that it is used as a political battering ram against Ralph and the ULP (Unity Labour Party),” Gonsalves said.
“I will go to church and I will see Duggie in the church and I will accept that his own Christian conscience will tell him that what he did and what he is allowing to happen is just plain wrong,” said Gonsalves, who, like De Freitas, is Catholic.
Asked how he feels about the original article that make the accusation, Gonsalves said:
“You can’t feel anything but contempt for people who simply make up these stories; absolute contempt for them…
“Fortunately, the people of this country know … the notion of I having two planes and leasing them to LIAT, of which I am the chairman of the company, and do so secretly, which raises issues of lack of transparency and lack of integrity, I mean people who know me will know that that is a lot of foolishness.”