A High Court Judge has partially removed an injunction blocking this newspaper from continuing a series of investigative reports into salary increases that were allegedly paid to Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) Company Ltd chief executive Keith Eddy and corporate secretary Nicole Gopeesingh.
Delivering a written decision on the injunction yesterday, High Court Judge Kevin Ramcharan ruled Guardian Media’s Lead Editor – Business Curtis Williams, who wrote the articles, had provided an arguable defence to the defamation claims levelled by the CEPEP duo and that a balance of justice required publication.
“In the circumstances, the balance must come down in favour of upholding the freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” Ramcharan said.
In assessing Williams’ defence, Ramcharan noted that he merely determined if it was arguable at the eventual trial of the case and not whether it succeeded or not.
Ramcharan noted that the subject of the articles was in the public interest.
“I am of the view that the issue is at the very least prima facie of a public interest, as on the face of it, the payment of monies and salaries by those employed by a State enterprise, who are paid by the taxpayer (as the claimants are) is in the public interest,” Ramcharan said.
He also rejected submissions that Williams did not practice responsible journalism by failing to contact Gopeesingh prior to publication.
“It is to be noted that the law does not make seeking comment from the claimant a necessity and it would be a question to be determined on trial whether Williams ought to have sought comment from Gopeesingh in light of the information he had, and other communication he had with the chairman and Eddy,” Ramcharan said.
He also dismissed claims from Gopeesingh that the reports were the results of a conspiracy between a group of her colleagues, Guardian Media and Williams.
“In fact, at present, there is no evidence from which the court could make a finding of malice on the part of any of the defendants,” he said.
While Ramcharan granted permission for this newspaper to restore the online publication of the reports, he prevented it from publishing a minor allegation that could not be proven. He also barred it from publishing photos or copies of documents which exhibited the duo’s personal information besides their compensation package information.
The duo sought the injunction after the reports began to be published on September 6.
In the first article, it was alleged that the company’s board had approved salary increases for the duo in November last year.
The company issued a release in which it called for a retraction and claimed that the decision was not finalised, as approval was needed from the HR Committee and Chief Personnel Officer (CPO). Two days later, another article was published alleging that a little over $200,000, representing their retroactive increases, was transferred to the duo’s accounts.
CEPEP again issued a release claiming that the payments were due to an accounting error and were subsequently reversed.
The duo was represented by Elton Prescott, SC, Farai Hove-Masaisai, Issa Jones and Jennifer Farah-Tull.
Marc Campbell and Andre Rudder represented Guardian Media, its managing editor Rosemarie Sant and Williams.