Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Matalon wins lawsuit against Observer

Published:Monday | August 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Sheldon Williams, Staff Reporter

Business mogul Joseph M. Matalon has been awarded $4.3 million by the Supreme Court for defamation, arising out of a lawsuit he filed against the Jamaica Observer.

The suit was filed because of a 2008 article titled 'The trouble with toxic bonds: How Mechala bond holders lost out', published in the Caribbean Business Report, a pull-out business magazine published by the newspaper company.

Matalon's lawyers successfully argued that the article besmirched his good name. He had argued that the article, by, among other things, omitting critical facts; misrepresenting some facts by not placing them in their proper chronological order; and portraying him as the chief architect of an elaborate plot to fleece investors by setting out on a path to 'hook' them on the 'toxic' bonds offered by his family business, Mechala, defamed him.

Justice Bryan Sykes said the omission of material facts concerning information about the bonds would have changed the tenor of the article, had those facts been referred to.

"One sentence to say that the risk of dishonouring the bonds was fully disclosed and highlighted over nine pages would not have lengthened the article unreasonably," the judge said.

"The court appreciates that a newspaper is not the Encyclopedia Britannica, but surely a complete picture ought to have been given," said the ruling.

Justice Sykes further said the highlighting of Joseph M. Matalon, by using his picture twice, and writing an incorrect chronology regarding the departure of Joseph A. Matalon, did convey the impression that Joseph M. Matalon was implicated in withholding the crucial information that misled investors.

"The defence of fair comment, therefore, fails. While the law tolerates minor inaccuracies, omissions and juxtapositioning which have the effect of conveying misleading facts are not acceptable," the court held.

The court also held that certain aspects of the reportage amounted to irresponsible journalism.

Costs to Joseph M. Matalon are to be agreed or taxed. Mayer Matalon, the second claimant, died in 2012, before the case began.

Joseph M. Matalon's attorney, Gordon Robinson, had suggested that the case should attract an award of $50 million, but Sykes said "this case is at the low end of defamation awards".

"The allegations were serious, but from all indications, Joseph M. is none the worse," the judge said.