NEW YORK, USA -- Legal woes deepened last week for two Guyana state-owned media companies, three privately owned media entities closely associated with Guyana’s ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and presidential staffer Kwame McCoy.
Last week the state entities admitted defaming Rickford Burke, president of the New York based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) -- a staunch critic of the PPP government.
The state-owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper and National Communications Network (NCN) television were both forced to apologize and retract a false story claiming that Burke was arrested in New York for identity theft. The story turned out to be completely erroneous. Burke was in fact the victim of identity fraud.
The report was allegedly written by a PPP supporter in New York and dispatched to President Donald Ramotar’s office in Georgetoen. Ramotar’s public relations liaison Kwame McCoy is said to have disseminated it to state and PPP friendly media.
The Guyana Chronicle, NCN Television, Multi Technology Vision Inc., Little Rock Television, Guyana Times, and Kwame McCoy broadcasted, published and/or repeated the story on January 30, 2013.
Subsequently they were each slapped with $20 million libel lawsuits, totaling $120 million. NCN officials published a retraction and apology on air last Friday. The Chronicle placed its retraction and apology into its online archives on February 1.
However, Burke’s attorney Nigel Hughes wrote to the entities last Tuesday rejecting their retractions on several grounds; including a lack of prominence as the offending article, which was published on the front page. He told the parties that in light of their admission of error, Burke was entitled to “substantial damages.” The parties were issued twenty-four hour ultimatums to submit proposals for monetary damages, failing which legal proceedings will continue.
Brooklyn attorney Donnell Suares also slapped the publisher of the PPP website Newguymedia.com, Clinton Dubissette of Brooklyn, with a libel lawsuit. Saures has also sued Guyana Times New York publishers, Guyana Times International, Inc., of Queens.
CGID spokesman Jevon Suralie referred to the management of the media entities as “PPP flunkies and henchmen whose character assassination plot blew up in their faces.” He dismissed the retractions as a “contemptuous joke,” and contended that the offending article still features prominently on the Chronicle’s online edition.
Burke has battled identity theft since 1999 when his wallet and identification documents were stolen.
“In January he received a traffic violation summons from NYPD officers. The summons was due to other persons driving under his name and accumulating violations unbeknownst to him. The PPP’s attempt to deceive the Guyanese people by turning the facts on their head is characteristic of their criminal enterprise," Suralie said.
Burke's New York attorney, Mark Pollard, who represented him at the hearing for the traffic summons said, "This is a traffic infraction at best. It could have been resolved by paying a $50 fine but my client is a victim of identity fraud, thus even a small fine is too much for an innocent man."