FAIR COMMENT ON A MATTER OF PUBLIC INTEREST


In English law, fair comment on a matter of public interest is allowed. Generally, it guarantees the freedom of the press to make statements on matters of public interest, as long as the statements are not made with ill-will, spite, or with intent to harm the subject of the comment. For decades, English courts have placed a higher burden on public figures to prove defamation, which includes both libel and slander. This is based on the view that if a person chooses public activity, that person must expect a higher degree of public scrutiny. For example, it is hardly likely that an English court will countenance a defamatory intent against a public figure where an allegation of conflict of interest is made on facts which are essentially true but could be capable of a more generous interpretation.

Fair comment is an ancient common law (judge made law) defence. But it was replaced in the Unites States in 1964 by a defence created in the case of New York Times v Sullivan in which the US Supreme Court decided that actual malice has to be proved to establish defamation. Since it is very difficult to prove actual malice in a journalist or a politician in the cut and thrust of journalism or politics, public life in the US has been largely liberated from the fear of defamation. While the defence of fair comment remained in the U.K. it was increasingly found to be too restrictive for adequate scrutiny of public officials. The courts of the UK have never adopted New York Times v Sullivan but began to test a more liberal approach to criticisms of public officials.

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STILL TIME FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM


President Granger’s address to the National Assembly completely omitted any reference to constitutional reform.  Since a budgetary provision was made, the Guyanese people were entitled to be told what legislative initiatives to expect from the Government.   

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THE FAMILIAR RING OF THE ELECTIONS SEASON


Local government elections are to be held on November 12. With it, the never-ending stream of suspicions emerged as the Government established new local government units and merged others. The Opposition argued that these were done to give an advantage to the Government and the Opposition, through one of its representatives, promptly launched legal proceedings. This event provided the explanation for the ‘disappearance’ of the Chief Elections Officer, Mr. Keith Lowenfield, on one of the most critical days of the elections process, namely, the day after the submission of lists, when corrections have to be made and defects rectified.

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CHARLES RAMSON (JR) DECLARES FOR PPP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

Charles Ramson (Jr) recently announced that he would seek the PPP’s nomination to be its presidential candidate for the 2020 general elections. That’s not the way it’s done, admonished General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo. At the appropriate time the party will have a discussion on the matter and the candidate will emerge, he explained.

Ramson’s announcement was made immediately after the CCJ ruled that the two-term presidential limit did not violate Guyana’s constitution, thereby ruling out former president Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo for a third term, for which the PPP would have nominated him. Mr. Ramson clearly wanted his name to be placed among those under consideration before an anointment is made. He joins (in alphabetical order), Irfaan Ali, Frank Anthony and Anil Nandlall who have been identified by observers as being the persons from whom a ‘choice’ will be made. While no one has yet emerged as a ‘front runner,’ it could well be that one among the three has already been identified. If this is so then Ramson’s may possibly have been seen as an intruder, prematurely disrupting what might have been a carefully orchestrated selection process.

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SUSTAINING AND ADVANCING DEMOCRACY FOR THE NEW YEAR

In the critical years of the 1970s and 1980s, three major issues engaged the attention of my political colleagues – restore democracy, advance social progress and avoid civil strife. We firmly believed that Guyana could make no progress unless full democracy through free and fair elections were restored. Our analysis was that it was the lack of internal democracy that was responsible for what we then saw as the failure of the economic reforms in the 1970s and 1980s to lead to economic and social progress. The PPP saw this and gave a lifeline to the PNC more than once. The most notable was the National Patriotic Front under which, after free and fair elections, the largest political party would take the prime ministership and the second largest the executive presidency. The PNC would not hear of it. Even if democracy had not been restored in 1992, developments in the world would have ensured that by today we would have been living in a democratic Guyana.

The victory of democracy in 1992 has resulted in substantial economic and social progress for Guyana. But this progress gave rise to other problems. The incipient problems of corruption and lack of transparency and accountability exploded, with little effort to resolve them. Also, the intractable issue of ethno-political domination was put aside because of the unremitting, and sometimes violent opposition of the PNC, as well as some degree of triumphalism within the PPP. Attempts to work through and resolve differences between the PPP government and Desmond Hoyte and later Robert Corbin failed. The PPP government was mainly responsible. When the real opportunity of embracing unity presented itself in 2011, the PPP did not even consider forming a coalition with APNU. The reticence today of both parties in embracing constitutional reform which would diminish the impact of ethno-politics is the next hurdle the Guyanese people have to overcome.

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