Liberia: FrontPageAfrica’s Lawyer, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, Wants Sen. Teahjay’s Complaint Trashed; Says There’s No Legal Ground for Libel
MONROVIA – Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe who represents the legal interest of FrontPageAfrica Newspaper has called on the Civil Law Court to dismiss the libel suit filed by Sinoe County Senator J. Milton Teahjay because he lacks the legal ground to sue the newspaper in the instant case.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
Responding to the complaint on behalf of FPA, Cllr. Gongloe argues that the law of defamation does not protect a public official in the same way it does an ordinary person in society.
This, according to Cllr. Gongloe, is because as a public official, Sen. Teahjay is open to public scrutiny at all times and at the same time, he has the ability and right to counter any unfavorable statement made about his public conduct.
“Further to the complaint, Defendant (FrontPageAfrica) says that the courts will not entertain action of damages for every expression or publication made about a public figure as to do so would create a chilling effect on freedom of expression which is one of the cornerstones of building a democratic society, hence, action of damages in this case will not lie as to all counts of the complaint,” FrontPageAfrica’s response contended.
Cllr. Gongloe also stated that Senator Teahjay failed to prove in complaint that the management of FrontPageAfrica was reckless and acted with malice when it published the allegation of him receiving a bribe of US$20,000 from Cllr. A. N. Nwabudike to have him confirmed.
The newspaper’s response argue that Senator Teahjay cannot rely on malice per se to claim damages for libel as the law requires persons of his status to prove actual libel as a precondition for recovery.
Cllr. Gongloe challenged Sen. Teahjay to show actual malice, reckless disregard to the truth and an impossibility to counter in the mass media a publication that could have negative impact on him before he can recover from a publication that he claims is untrue about him.
“Further to the complaint, Defendant (FrontPageAfrica) says that the courts will not entertain action of damages for every expression or publication made about a public figure as to do so would create a chilling effect on freedom of expression which is one of the cornerstones of building a democratic society, hence, action of damages in this case will not lie as to all counts of the complaint.”– FrontPageAfrica’s Response to Sen. Teahjay’s Libel Suit
“Further to the entire complaint, defendants say that although plaintiff has averred that the statements complained about has damaged his reputation, he has pointed to no negative development regarding whether or not people still respect him or whether he has been denied certain opportunities; no political party has advocated his removal from office following the publication that forms the basis of this action and he still occupies his position as Senator of Sinoe County. It is a principle of law in this jurisdiction that ‘where there is no injury the law gives no remedy’.
Cllr. Gongloe on behalf of FrontPageAfrica further argued that Sen. Teahjay’s claim for damages cannot lie because the allegation of bribery he complained about as published was not an affirmative statement, rather speculation about the conduct of the public official based on information made available to the newspaper by a source given the history of secrecy regarding questionable financial transaction involving members of the legislature over the years.
The response to Sen. Teahjay’s complaint captured that the publication was balanced as it contained the Senator’s denial of receiving bribe as alleged by the source. “It was a balanced story that published all sides of the story for the benefit of the public and the plaintiff, given the public interest nature of the story and the position of the plaintiff as a public official.”