By Kenton X. Chance
The pro-opposition NICE Radio will have to pay Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves some EC$225,000 in damages, cost and interest, awarded to him as a result of another defamation lawsuit.
And, on Monday, efforts began to raise the sum, the second time in recent years that members of the public are being asked to contribute to prevent the station from being liquidated in order to meet a defamation judgement
Gonsalves had filed the defamation suit in connection with comments that then radio talk show host Matthew Thomas made on “Stay Awake”, a programme broadcast on NICE Radio up until 2012.
When “Stay Awake”, which was also hosted by Junior Bacchus, went to bed on Jan. 30, 2012, it left NICE Radio and Thomas, a pharmacist, a bill for EC$166,625.
In a Feb. 10, 2012 judgment, the High Court ordered Thomas and BDS Ltd., owners of NICE Radio, to pay Gonsalves EC$155,000 in aggravated damages, EC$11,625 cost, and interest of 5 per cent until the monies are paid.
The ruling stems from a defamation case Gonsalves brought against the defendants.
According to the ruling, Thomas, on Jan. 29, 2007, made certain statements about Gonsalves having untoward intentions toward Bacchus.
Thomas had also accused Gonsalves of using the Office of the Prime Minister to facilitate illegal activities.
The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the lower court and the parties are due back in court on June 26, 2017.
Lawyer Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, who acted for the respondents during the appeal, has revived a committee that she and others had formed some years ago to raise a similar amount to save NICE Radio after a defamation judgment in a suit brought by Gonsalves.
She told a radiothon on NICE Radio Monday night that the respondents do not have to raise all the monies by then, but it would be good if that is the case.
She had told iWitness News earlier on Monday that she is confident that the monies will be raised.
“We did it already and we will do it again. In fact, we will do it even better this time.”
In his weekday commentary on NICE Radio on Monday, owner and manager of BDS Ltd. Douglas De Freitas, a staunch critic of Gonsalves, his cousin, said that the radio station is undergoing its current legal battles “because of the fight for true democracy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
He, however, said that after several years of struggle, he is “worn” and “broken” and prepared to sell his two-storey house, where the radio station is located on the ground floor, and move with his family to the United States.
He noted that the lawsuits filed against the station resulted from comments by different talk show personalities.
DeFreitas pointed out that the current legal battle resulted from an article that Thomas read from a newspaper.
“And Matthew Thomas was sued and so was the radio station,” DeFreitas said, adding that there was a default judgment after the lawyer that they had at the High Court stage “abandoned us”.
The case went to appeal and there was a descent judgment in which one appellate judge disagreed with the case having been heard originally in the absence of the respondent.
“And so, a sum of money, EC$155,000 plus cost and the interest went on on that,” DeFreitas said.
He said that he met one of Gonsalves’ lawyers in town recently and told him that he had
received “you all love letter” — purportedly a letter about payment of the damages awarded by the court.
DeFreitas said that lawyer asked him if he was taking the legal matter as a joke and he said no.
“I said, why is it that you all never want us to apologise and if we don’t apologise then you take us to court?”
De Freitas said he suggested to the lawyer that the station can pay Gonsalves EC$5,000 a month.
“We can struggle to do that. Why can’t it be that way? But the whole issue is to close Nice Radio down. It is not about the money. The money is the instrument, through the court system, to make sure that we are shut down, that there is no dissenting voice in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Meanwhile, Bacchus-Baptiste told iWItness News that she thinks that they have to be more careful about what they say on NICE Radio.
“Douggie himself has been extremely careful. No one has ever sued Douggie for defamation, which speaks volumes.”
Bacchus-Baptiste, however, said she disagreed with the position of the Court of Appeal.
“I took the position, which is what the law says, to my mind, that you cannot get summary judgment for defamation matters. And, to my mind, this amounted to a summary judgment.
“What is interesting is that one of the Court of Appeal judges agreed with that position. What is strange, though, is that this appeal was heard in the absence of all counsel. I just received the judgment and this has never happened before so that was new.”
She further acknowledged the prime minister’s right to sue who he chooses.
“But when you are a political figure, you will have to take the fallout or comments that are made regarding how genuine it is,” she said in reference to persons’ comments about who Gonsalves chooses to sue.
In November 2011, Thomas had threatened “guerrilla warfare” if Gonsalves had collected the money awarded to him in a suit he brought against E.G. Lynch, then host of the main New Democratic Party’s radio programme.
“Well, I am using this forum tonight to send a message to Ralph Gonsalves. Ralph, I am quite emotional about this; understand me. As a matter of fact, I have told my wife this. I told her ‘make up your mind that Matthew Thomas would be imprisoned or assassinated’,” Thomas had said.
Gonsalves collected the payment in 2012 and had said he would donate it to charity.