The Irfaan Ali controversy
JANUARY 10, 2012 | BY KNEWS | FILED UNDER FEATURES / COLUMNISTS, FREDDIE KISSOON
There is an injunction restraining this newspaper and this columnist from repeating the contents of an article in 2010 captioned, “King Kong sent his goons to break up the conference” The injunction stems from the libel suit filed by then President Jagdeo against my analysis of his Government attitude to African Guyanese.
There were two hearings to remove the restriction. The first was denied by Chief Justice (ag), Ian Chang (who one year later, assigned a judge to hear the libel) and then the Full Court ruled that the injunction must remain.
I observed the court imposition but it is important for writers and journalists to note that all the injunction did was to stop the reproduction of that particular column. It did not hinder me from analyzing Jagdeo’s attitude to race relations in Guyana neither was I banned from applying the term King Kong to the abuse of state power under Mr. Jagdeo. I did not allow myself to be circumscribed by the injunction once I did not regurgitate the contents of that particular column.
I am nonplussed at the two decisions on that particular judgement of the court. Now we have another court gag on discussion by this newspaper of alleged assets of Housing Minister, Irfaan Ali. This newspaper is prevented from further journalistic expression on his finances. This should not deter commentators from pontificating on matters of public interests involving the particular minister.
Jamaica, without any fanfare in the Caribbean media, has gone in the modern direction in reforming its libel laws.
In this country, our libel laws are terribly outdated. Surely, no one is entitled to publicly call a married man a homosexual if the proof cannot be supplied. But preventing media houses from commenting on matters of public interest is a practice the courts worldwide have frowned upon. I believe it is perfectly legitimate to ask public officials questions relevant to their public lives.
For me it is legitimate as a commentator to seek questions from a thirty-one-year-old Minister to account for the sources of his funds in building a large house with a swimming pool. I say most inflexibly, that is a perfect journalistic question in any modern society. The Minister in turn should feel obliged to respond.
Sadly from a journalistic standpoint, I think Justice Insanally’s injunction will deter further writings on the financial possessions of the Minister.
Giving life to the controversy is the response from the Office of the President on the Kaieteur News front page story on Ali’s house and swimming pool. It was the usual PPP insanity. This ossified political animal will not learn anything from the sixty of years it has been in existence.
There was a vicious attack on this newspaper that was sickening in terms of the language used. And after the violence of language was abated, there was no plausible response to the legitimacy of journalism as contained in questions asked about the financial resources of the young minister
Can a Guyanese Minister as young as thirty-one years old with just a three years in his portfolio build a house like what Irfaan Ali has plus a swimming pool plus the pool house? The answer is a resounding yes. Surely, he could have acquired the money in a legitimate way. But because of his age and because of the construction which took place after he became a Minister, the press is entitled to probe. That is the fundamental role of the press.
It doesn’t mean that the Minister is a scoundrel. It doesn’t means that his wealth is illegal
in any modern society, the Irfaan Ali construction would attract the interest of the media. As a response, the Minister’s Government would then reply with bone fide statistics and a plausible explanation. If these statistics and this plausible explanation exist, we didn’t see them in his Government’s response.
Instead the nation is treated to the insanity and depravity of the PPP that this country has had to endure since the birth of the PPP. In defending Ali, the Government’s attitude was to resort to its usual tirades against the media.
Irfaan Ali needs to go over and over his Government’s defence of him and he will see it was an incompetent and most messed up operation. All it did was to prolong the controversy and increase suspicion. It is simply sad that leaders who have been in politics for so long cannot seem to get anything right. This was the downfall of Bharrat Jagdeo. He never got anything right.