Editorial

The courtroom bully can't have it his way all the time

Thursday, June 05, 2014    

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In the practice of freedom of expression, we uphold the right of anyone, including Mr K D Knight, to be critical of this newspaper, its principals and staff. We shall also exercise our right of reply.

Mr Knight, as part of the defence in the just-concluded trial of three former Appliance Traders Limited (ATL) executives now freed by the courts of fraud charges, has launched the most vitriolic attack on the Jamaica Observer about our coverage of the trial.

The attorney, who forgets that he is a senator of Jamaica when it is convenient, abrogates to himself the right to decide which newspaper he wants to cover trials in which he is involved. He can't have that.

Of course we understand the dynamics of a newspaper covering an assignment in which its principal, in this case, Mr Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, is integrally involved. The inescapable assumption, no matter how groundless, is that the reportage would be in his favour. This is an unwinnable battle that we don't fight. The only thing we have in our defence is that the verdict is yours, the reader.

But we must make it clear that we will continue to cover the newsworthy activities of our chairman. Mr Stewart, long before he founded the Observer in 1993, has been a newsmaker who attracts media attention because of his extraordinary success as Jamaica's biggest investor, foreign exchange earner, and employer of labour, outside of government.

In our competitive newspaper environment, we do not apologise for taking this decision. We believe that journalism owes this publisher a measure of gratitude for his commitment to providing Jamaica a second daily newspaper. Our ultimate survival will depend on whether we serve our readers well. Of that we have no complaints. So far, in only 21 years, our newspaper is fitter, faster, fresher than our aging competitor. And the best is yet to come.

We believe strongly that we have acquitted ourselves well in the coverage of the ATL pension fraud trial and so we categorically reject Mr Knight's baseless charges of biased coverage against the defence.

What Mr Knight sees as bias is our reporting on his churlish behaviour in the courtroom. He badgered witnesses, insulted some, shouted at others, spoke over the magistrate, walked in and out of the court numerous times, among other actions not expected by right-thinking people of a veteran attorney and a senator of the land.

Had the overly patient judge not put her foot down at times, he would have been running the trial. Try to imagine that from a former minister of national security and justice.

In one of many notable instances, Mr Knight called a senior prosecution lawyer, Mr Gayle Nelson, "a wimp". Following our report on the ugly remark, Mr Knight came to court the next day to apologise, saying that his own daughter had remonstrated with him for describing his colleague in such terms.

In this trial, he was no model of decorum and respect for men and women he must lead as part of the Government of Jamaica. He was no knight in shining armour or a proud representative of the legal fraternity. The courtroom bully must know that his behaviour is unacceptable.

For bringing this to light, we have earned - proudly might we say - the ire of Mr Knight. We will continue to hold him to a higher standard as long as he remains a senator. To whom much is given, much is expected.

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