Fiji Sun Articles About Bus in Public Interest, Rules Judge

  Fiji Sun articles about a defective bus and a driver who refused to drive it were public duty as a newspaper, a judge ruled Justice Deepthi Amaratunga of the
11 Nov 2016 11:00
Fiji Sun Articles About Bus in Public Interest, Rules Judge


Fiji Sun articles about a defective bus and a driver who refused to drive it were public duty as a newspaper, a judge ruled

Justice Deepthi Amaratunga of the High Court in Suva made the statement in his judgment in a case where Tebara Transport Limited claimed Fiji Sun defamed its reputation as an entity that operates public transport in Fiji.

He said the transport company had failed to prove the allegations contained in the statement of claim, and there was no malice and the facts reported in the articles were of public importance.

“The articles were published in good faith without malice in the discharge of the defendant’s public duty as a newspaper,” Justice Amaratunga said.

He dismissed and struck out the statement of claim.

He also ordered Tebara Transport Limited to pay costs of $5000.

Emmanuel Narayan of Patel Sharma Lawyers represented the Fiji Sun while A. Pal of AP Legal represented Tebara Transport Limited.

“The plaintiff is one of the few bus companies that were selected to provide transport services to general public, hence their actions are open for public scrutiny,” Justice Amaratunga said.

“When a driver of a bus refuses to drive a bus and leaves the bus company stating that it was defective cannot be a common occurrence in a bus company who maintains their buses properly.

“So, when the same bus was issued with ‘Defect Order’ within two months from the refusal of the driver, the allegations of the driver cannot be rejected, and the reporter had inquired from all the stakeholders including the plaintiff and published the articles.

“The matters addressed in the said articles are of public interest as commuters need to know about the buses they travel and how concerned the management was about the safety of commuters among other things.

“The matters of publication concerning the plaintiff were matters of fair comment and were true and accurate based on the material within the knowledge, information and belief of the defendants.

“The plaintiff could not prove the content of the articles were false and or malicious. In the first article the complaint of the driver was reported and this reporting is justified by ‘Defect Order’ issued to the same bus the driver refused to drive less than two months from the incident.

“The said defects were detected on the roadside inspection and there was no evidence that those defects occurred after the driver refused to drive. If the buses are properly maintained such defects cannot occur suddenly specially the requirement to replace shock absorbers, windscreen, roof leaking and hard to start cannot occur in short time.

“Without prejudice to what was stated in this judgment, the statement of claim is defective in that the precise words complained of have not been set out.

“The plaintiff has failed to plead a cause of action against the defendants. The claim of paragraph nine merely reproduces the large parts of article published without referring to the words of which complaint is made of the respects to which they are alleged to be defamatory.

“Since I have held that there was no defamation the defective pleading would not make a difference to the outcome of this action.”

In his conclusion he said: “The plaintiff has not proved that the pleaded articles are false and malicious. It was held that…editorial decisions and judgments made at the time, without the knowledge of falsity which is a benefit of hindsight…are relevant. Weight should ordinarily be given to the professional judgment of an editor or journalist in the absence of some indication that it was made in a casual, cavalier, slipshod or careless manner.

“The defendant as a newspaper had published the articles that have public importance.

“The conduct of the plaintiff cannot be immune from public scrutiny as it is engaged in a business that is an integral part of the society.

“So the reporter after contacting the stakeholders and also obtaining written statements from the relevant ministry and had published the facts stated in the article and the source of information is correctly identified.”

Edited by Caroline Ratucadra


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