Sports journalist Gordon Pierre has been ordered to pay $550,000 in compensation to fellow journalist Lasana Liburd for defamation on social media.
High Court Master Martha Alexander assessed the damages in favour of Liburd on Tuesday in his defamation case over a series of Facebook posts made by Pierre.
Liburd was recently elected vice president of the Media Association of T&T.
According to the evidence in the case, Pierre, a former press officer for the T&T Football Association (TTFA), made the personal attacks on Liburd after his online sports magazine Wired 868 published an investigative report on activities within the association, in March 2017.
Pierre responded by commenting on the magazine’s Facebook page with accusations against Liburd, which cannot be republished.
Liburd sued Pierre in June, last year, but received a judgement in default after Pierre failed to register an appearance in the case and did not hire a lawyer to represent his interests in his absence. Pierre also chose not to participate in the subsequent assessment before Alexander and as a result, only Liburd’s uncontested claims were considered.
In her 15-page decision, Alexander noted that Pierre offensive comments were protracted and that he never apologised.
“The defamatory comments were also not voluminous but were vicious, repeated, targeted and in full online public glare, utilising the popular platform of Facebook for maximum effect,” she said.
She also noted that Pierre tagged notable sporting personalities and officials in the posts.
“This tagging was systematic, widespread, and targeted online friends and associates of the claimant so was particularly damning, as the claimant depended on the sporting fraternity for leads, information and referrals to keep his family-run business buoyant,” Alexander said.
In assessing the compensation, Alexander ruled that Pierre’s profession was an aggravating factor.
“This was his world, and he understood the impact of his actions,” Alexander said.
In addition to the $450,000 in general damages, Alexander also awarded $100,000 in exemplary damages, which is supposed to serve as a deterrent to others who may seek to defame others in a similar manner.
“The abuse of Facebook must be stopped. Indeed, persons who use online platforms for virtual mischief must be faced with the consequences of such ill-advised public airing of their malicious attacks,” she said.
In addition to the compensation award, Alexander also ordered Pierre to pay the $45,000 in legal costs incurred by Liburd in bringing the lawsuit.
Pierre has 48 days in which to pay the debt or appeal as Alexander granted a stay of execution on her order.
Liburd was represented by attorney Gabrielle Gellineau.