BELIZE CITY, Wed. Apr. 27, 2016–The attorneys in the libel claim brought by Iris Myrtle Palacio, the former Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) Secretary General, against Alfonso Noble and the Guardian newspaper, the official organ of the governing United Democratic Party (UDP), made their final oral submissions in the Supreme Court of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin this afternoon.
Palacio is claiming that an article, which was captioned “PUP Secretary General endorses the use of witchcraft in politics,” along with an accompanying cartoon, captioned “PUP election preparation,” which depicts Palacio chopping off the head of a chicken, published in the Guardian December, 2014, had defamed her character.
Chief Justice Benjamin has indicated to the parties that he will issue his ruling on June 29.
When the case first came up and both the defendant and the claimant took the witness stand to tell their side of the story, the defense had played for the court a segment of the PUP Positive Vibes television talk show on which Palacio was a guest and had uttered certain comments that the defense pounced upon as fair comment.
Palacio’s attorney, Rt. Hon. Said Musa, S.C., however, argued that the character of his client, who is a respectable member of the Garifuna community, was maligned by the article and cartoon.
Meanwhile, Noble attorney, Michael Young, S.C., contended that the article was written on the basis of the comments Palacio made on the Positive Vibes show.
Musa told the court, “The words we complain of are the very headlines of the article. For good measure, My Lord, the disparaging article is followed by a cartoon. This caricature depicts her [Palacio] in a ritual act of killing a chicken.”
Young told the court that no evidence of malice had been provided by the claimant.
After the hearing, Musa told reporters, “What you think people will think when you accuse somebody of being a witch, of practicing witchcraft? The average Belizean would right away feel they want to do harm to somebody; you will practice witchcraft on that person. And all she did was to say, let’s not report this to the Creator, as the caller wanted to do, which I would submit, and I did submit, has its own sinister implication.”
“You will report somebody to God, then you want God to deal with that person and she is saying, no, no, just light a candle and burn the candle over his head. As she explained, in her culture and in her religion, there is burning of candles in the Catholic Church, in the Methodist Church, in the Anglican Church, and in the Garifuna culture there is the burning of candles. Now what is sinister and really, to my mind, damning about this whole article is that right at the very bottom there is this cartoon, which, if you look at that cartoon, it is disparaging this good lady in the worse possible light,” Musa said.
Palacio also weighed in on the interview, saying, “You can see the response to the Stirm situation. In fact, I had to hold back and I am holding back, and there are people, not only the Garifuna, other people on Belize who are watching this case very much so because we are tired of the discrimination and racism.”
For context, the background to the article was that Palacio was complaining about the Returning Officer Marcelo Windsor, whom she felt was too chummy with the UDP chairman John August.
Attorney Young explained, “They jumped up and said Mr. Noble and the Guardian have done such a great hurtful wrong. Well, Mr. Noble never just jump up and write an article, you know. There was the Positive Vibes program with the words that she used and those words came after a barrage of attacks against the returning officer.”
Young went on to state, “The whole tape that was shown in court was just over 14 minutes and the previous 13 minutes was this attack which was articulated and led by the claimant. At the end it produced this result that somebody called and said, ‘make we report ah to God’, as if this man had done such a grave sin.
“She said ‘no, no, no’. She said ‘burn the damn candle over ih head and look for his name to get his birthdate on the register of electors. This is what we have to do deh kind of people.’ What is that? That is glaring and that is our case. The article was saying you ought not to mix religion and politics, because look what happened in this case on this show on the 23 December, 2014.”
Guardian editor Alfonso Noble, the man at the center of this legal battle, said, “They are claiming that I was malicious in my reporting; I reported on a fact. There was a talk show in which certain statements were made. I did not fabricate anything; I did not make up a story about what she said. I understood what she said to mean something and I reported on it and there is absolutely no malice in that.”
“This is at the time the Secretary General of the PUP, when you utter certain things you must be held accountable to what you say in high positions such as the Secretary General of a political party. There must be some level of responsibility in the manner in which you conduct yourself, in the manner in which you speak to the public,” he said.