Mac files suit against CNS
(CNS): The Cayman Islands premier has followed through on a threat to take legal action against Cayman News Service and has filed suit, claiming that a Viewpoint written by a reader discussing the ban on civil servants exercising the right to free speech was defamatory. Naming both Nicky Watson as owner and operator of CNS and Wendy Ledger as a writer working for Watson, the suit is claiming damages over four sections picked out of the commentary, saying that McKeeva Bush’s “credit, character and reputation has been severely damaged politically, socially and in his business.” CNS is contesting the suit, maintaining that the article in question was a classic example of fair comment. (Photo Dennie Warren Jr)
In the statement of claim received by Watson on Monday 10 October, the premier, through his attorneys, states that the commentary published on 19 May suggested that Bush’s behaviour is comparable to terrorism, that he victimizes or will victimize civil servants and that he is opposed to the people's rights to freedom of speech.
In June, Bush demanded an apology and the removal of the Viewpoint, which was written by a reader of CNS under the pen name ‘Bean Counter’. However, Watson responded to his attorney, Steve McField, saying she had taken legal advice about the contents of the letter of demand, and had been advised that the law protects freedom of speech, and that the article in question was a classic example of fair comment on a matter of public interest, the publication of which is protected by law.
In her response, Watson noted that section 11 of the Constitution, which while not yet in force enshrines fundamental common law principles, provides that freedom of expression includes “freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”. She wrote, “The writer of the article in question holds opinions on an important matter of public interest, and Cayman News Service has the freedom to receive and impart the writer's ideas.”
She also noted that the context in which the word “terrorist” is used in the article is clearly explained.
“The writer of the article has expressed a strong view that the imposition of restrictions on the freedom of expression of civil servants is wrong, and creates a climate of fear akin to that experienced by people living in dictatorial regimes … The article is no more and no less than an attack on your client's administration as being responsible, as the ruling administration, for the continuation of the policies and laws which restrict freedom of expression of public servants, and hence for the maintenance of a climate of fear. However much your client may be displeased, in a free society it is the right of the writer to make such an attack, and the right of Cayman News Service to publish it.”
Watson rejected the claim that the article was an unwarranted and defamatory attack on the premier, a position she still holds and is therefore prepared to contest the suit.
“The premier appears to have missed the irony of asserting one’s support of free speech under the Constitution while simultaneously threatening legal action when faced with the exercise of that avowed right,” Watson said in July following the letter of demand.
In response to the premier’s suit, she said, “Democracy cannot function properly when people are afraid to criticise government policy and those in authority and it is important that the media continues to protect those rights, whoever challenges them.”
|Response to Letter of Demand 5 July 2011.doc||54.5 KB|
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