One year ago, People’s United Party organ the Belize Times printed an article that alleged that Senator Godwin Hulse had acquired a 100-acre parcel of land in the Belize River Valley since joining the Cabinet and went on to make certain charges and negative comments. The article was not true, and the Minister sued for libel. Today Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin accepted a consent judgment and order drafted by attorneys for both sides that effectively settles the case. We spoke with Senator Hulse’s attorney, Senior Counsel Michael Young.
Michael Young – Attorney representing Godwin Hulse
“The statement we read in court, retraction and apology, that the same statement, copies be sent to the newspapers, copies be sent to channel 7, channel 5, that the defendants pay $20,000 to the claimant comprised of $15,000 in damages and $5,000 in cost, and that essentially would be the terms of the agreed settlement of the case. Certainly the most important thing of course is the vindication of his well deserved good reputation”.
The retraction and apology is to be published in the Times’ next issue as well as in the Amandala and Guardian newspapers, and copies are to be sent to Channel 7 and Channel 5. The damages are to be paid in instalments of $5,000 on August 1, 2014, and 5 instalments of $3,000 on the first day of each month beginning in September. It reads as follows: “On the 3rd of July 2013 the Belize Times published an article titled “Godwin Hustler??”. In essence the article made certain charges and negative comments in respect of Honourable Godwin Hulse, Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and National Emergency Management based on an allegation that he had acquired a 100 acre parcel of land in the Darling Area of the Belize River Valley on the 19th of June 2012 since becoming a Minister of Government. The Belize Times and Mr. Vellos accept that this allegation is simply untrue and unfounded and entirely retract the allegation and the charges and negative comments which were based on that allegation. The Belize Times and Mr. Vellos further apologize to the Honourable Godwin Hulse for the adverse article and any damage to his reputation that it has caused.” That seemed fair to both sides. And since in this business there is always risk of getting things wrong and exposing oneself to charges of libel and defamation, what should media houses do to protect themselves? Michael Young told us that if you are not sure, get proper advice.
“When do you have that caution coming on? When you are saying something about someone that is defamatory, and John Public knows what that means, something that really brings down the reputation of that person in the eyes of the general public, something that is negative, practically when you are describing to that person dishonesty, corruption or committed a crime or something to that effect. So it is a matter of looking at what you are doing, and if it is something defamatory, then pause before you broadcast, because the consequences can be difficult to deal with.”
Michael Young was joined by Yohannseh Cave and Vellos and the Times were defended by Kareem Musa.