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Weekly to be liquidated as a result of former prime minister's libel suit

(RSF/IFEX) - "The Grenada Today" weekly is apparently about to disappear as a result of a drawn-out libel suit by one of Grenada's former prime ministers, Keith Mitchell. High court judge Claire Henry ordered its liquidation this week after the owners failed to reach an agreement with Mitchell over payment of an exorbitant damages award.

"'Grenada Today''s liquidation is bad news for media diversity and, above all, a very bad precedent for the resolution of disputes linked to press offences," Reporters Without Borders said. "Regardless of the substance of the case, it highlights the disproportionate nature of damages awards that threaten the survival of the publication concerned."

Reporters Without Borders added: "We call for a legislative amendment that limits the amount of damages that a plaintiff can demand. And we hope that, although there are no further possibilities of appeal, that 'Grenada Today' can nonetheless still be saved by a last-minute deal."

One of the Caribbean island's five weekly newspapers, "Grenada Today" will be forced to close after failing to obtain a reduction in the US$71,000 it was ordered to pay Mitchell, who was prime minister from 1995 to 2008. Mitchell sued the newspaper in 2001 for publishing a reader's letter which he regarded as defamatory.

Originally set at US$44,600, the damages award was increased to the present level on appeal in 2003. While "Grenada Today"'s liquidation now seems inevitable, its editor, George Worne, has reportedly been approached to open a new paper.

The "Grenada Today" case is illustrative of the kind of lawsuit specifically designed to intimidate and silence critics that is referred to in English-speaking countries as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation or SLAPP. It usually takes the form of a defamation action carried out with the aim of forcing the target, a news media outlet or NGO, to either fold or retract because of mounting legal costs or the threat of a ruinous damages award.

Reporters Without Borders supports the principle of anti-SLAPP legislation.

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