High Court fines Fiji Sun for defamation

THE Fiji Sun newspaper has been ordered by the High Court in Suva to pay $60,000 in general damages to a businessman of Navua for defamation.

In a judgment delivered by Justice Deepthi Amaratunga on June 5, the court heard the plaintiff, Kewal Chand, had sued the former Fiji Sun Editor News, Maika Bolatiki, the newspaper’s publisher, Peter Lomas, and the company, Sun (Fiji) News Limited, for defamation relating to his arrest following a complaint of criminal intimidation and discovery of certain items found in his premises.

The court had heard during the hearing of the case that Mr Chand had had a dispute with his brother who complained about him having intimidated him using a cane knife.

In his analysis of the matter, Justice Amaratunga said Police visited the premises where the Plaintiff lived and discovered some items such as telescopic devices for rifle, and certain ammunition such as flares and some water meters.

He said the four news items published by the newspaper were related to this arrest and discovery of certain items that were in possession of the plaintiff.

“First, there was no public interest about a family dispute that resulted in Police investigation,” he said.

“Next, Plaintiff had a licence for the rifle hence there was no public interest on the discovery of firearm. Only suspicious items were telescopic devices and some ammunition, yet these were matters to be left for the Police to investigate fully, and reporting such incidents without further verification may harm public interest.”

Justice Amaratunga then said all four articles published by the Fiji Sun contained incorrect facts and the news items “individually as well as collectively defamatory to Plaintiff”.

“There was no public interest regarding whether Plaintiff was involved in water stealing, which again was a false allegation. At the same time, incorrect statement that Plaintiff was going to be interrogated by the military was also not a public interest matter and in any event, it was again false.”

He said the defendants could not report in a newspaper any news item it received without verification when there were serious consequences, as was in the case between Mr Kewal and the three defendants.

“Freedom of expression and freedom of speech and publication is not a blank cheque in the hands of reporters.

“They need to act ethically and responsibly as one incorrect statement about a person may damage that person irreversibly. No amount of damage can rectify that.

“The retrieval of the defamatory statement is very difficult, even with a correction and or with an apology. Here even that had not happened.”

The newspaper was also ordered to pay $2000 as cost of action.

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