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Hot 97 wins defamation case, judge issues warning

Hot 97 wins defamation case, judge issues warning

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A PASTOR HAS failed in his bid to receive compensation for what he alleged were defamatory comments made on Hot 97.1 FM.

The claim made by Sigmund Wiggins was dismissed in its entirety in a judgment delivered by High Court Judge, Nicola Byer.

It had been claimed by Wiggins that hosts of the AM Mayhem show made defamatory statements of him as a Minister of Religion on October 3, 2018, and October 4, 2018 and the Minister of Religion sought general, aggravated and exemplary damages as a result. Wiggins also sought an injunction preventing the radio hosts from further speaking or publishing the said words, costs and further relief as the court deems necessary.

The background leading up to the contentious statements was that sometime in or about September 2018 the Seventh Day Adventist Pastor stood bail for a 70-year-old congregant who had been charged with indecently assaulting a child of around the age of seven.

On October 3, a female guest on the radio’s morning programme spoke about her and her daughter’s alleged experiences of molestation by the accused congregant.

The radio hosts, Luke Boyea, Christopher Jones and Charles Villarreal were the defendants represented by counsel, Zhinga Horne-Edwards while Wiggins was represented by lawyer, Jemalie John.

The judge broke down her analysis into parts, including whether the words complained of: are capable of being defamatory; are capable of being defamatory in the circumstances in which they were spoken; were defamatory of Wiggins, and whether the full defenses are available.

In some instances Byer determined that words used by the hosts in the highlighted time slots complained of could not in their natural and ordinary meanings be defamatory.

For the other statements the judge considered the defense of Fair Comment that had been put forward by the radio hosts. She quoted that it is a complete defense to libel or slander where the words complained about are honest or Fair Comment on a matter of public interest.

A Hong Kong case the Justice referenced noted that fair comment is to “promote vigorous free speech so that a critic need not be mealy mouthed in denouncing what he disagrees with ….(but rather is) entitled to dip his pen in gall for the purposes of legitimate criticism.”

However, the defendants had to show that their words were comments and not statements of facts, that the comments were based on facts that were true or protected by privilege, objectively fair, and something of public interest.

Justice Byer determined, after citing authorities, that the the statements complained of in part one of a particular time slot of the AM Mayhem show were the “epitome of comment.”

In part two of that time slot she determined that the comments were not factual contentions, but opinions on how churches generally fail victims of certain offences but still want moral authority over its congregants.

The judge also considered that words in another recording could be determined to be opinions on the actions of the pastor in standing bail which is a fact.

Byer quoted that in “modern democracy all those who venture into public life in whatever capacity must expect to have their motives subjected to scrutiny and discussed. Nor is it realistic today to demand that such debate should be hobbled by the constraints of conventional good manners – still less deference. The law of Fair Comment must allow for healthy skepticism.”

Having established the defense of Fair Comment Byer made her decision to dismiss the claims. She also stipulated that costs be to the defendants.

However, as a postscript, she added, “I just wish to issue a word of warning to the defendants who are young and not so young men, that as strong as they may feel about a matter it is always prudent to err on the side of temperance in the issuing of their opinions.”

[Updated Monday 23, 2022 @11:06am]