Dunkley’s Defamation Debacle – A threat to political exchanges in social media?

The Defamation Suit

The RG led today with a story about Mr Dunkley, the Deputy Premier and Minister for National Security, launching a defamation suit against Mr Bean, the Leader of the Opposition.  

Dunkley v Bean FB

While the RG initially allowed comments, they’ve since removed them (there were nine when I last saw it) and disabled comments on that story – however, Bernews has now run the same story and is allowing comments.

The defamation suit appears (based on the RG and Bernews articles) to be based on two comments made by Mr Bean on Facebook on September 30th, 2013, where he was explicitly asked by the creator of the Facebook thread what his thoughts were on Mr Dunkley’s push to introduce drug testing for MPs.

Mr Bean wrote, at 1259:

“Morning Ms Furbert, this motion is solely the doings of Minister Dunkley (the irony).  Only Walton Brown spoke on our side, and three members from their side (reluctantly).  In other words, there is very little support for it but the OBA members are silent.  Dunkley has motivations that only he can explain.  If, the motion is about standards, then it should be based on being honourable (being honest).  That said, we should have lie detector test [sic] as a start.  In terms of how it will work, none of us have any idea.  When I look across the isle [sic], all I can do is shake my head, especially when we all know what the former head of Narcotics had to say about Minister Dunkley, and we all know two men have served time in prison for it.  Imagine, a PLP MP, as a leading importer of goods, also being the head of National Security and border control?  Irony and hypocrisy at its finest, delivered by a man whose sole purpose is power and control.”

Mr Bean further wrote, at 1350:

“…Larry Smith claims that the police have sufficient evidence of conspiracy.  Lesson to be learned.  MPs, as brother Lamach would note, are not angels, far from it.  As such, I can lead off by saying ‘what if, I, Marc Bean, was in rehab as we speak, or, was once convicted of stealing and distributing drugs, or, was well known to love cocaine, etc’?  That’s just 3 examples, and I can go on and on.  It will cut across the isle. Why wouldn’t I, because it would bring the HOA into disrepute.  We are not talking about bones in a closet, we are talking about the graveyard here.  This is also the reason why neither side make personal issues political.  99 percent of the legislators understand this, save for the thrower of stones in Glass houses…..Mike Dunkley.  And if marijuana is up for discussion, then what are we testing for?  Real drugs, alcohol?  And which Angelic MPs will be willing to sit on the committee to regulate their peers.  In a nut shell, watch the video again, and you will get a snap shot into the mind of our Deputy Premier.”

Now, I’ll leave it up to individual readers and those more legally schooled than I am to determine whether Mr Bean’s comments warrant being sued for defamation.

For the sake of public interest, in understanding the context of the above comments from Mr Bean, the video he refers to (by Larry Smith, the former head of Narcotics in the Bda police) may be found here.

There’s also some of the fall-out of that video here, and here, and also here.  And a follow up three years later, here.

Questions Raised?

Now, I’m not going to pass any judgement on the accuracy of Mr Smith’s allegations, or the worthiness of Mr Bean raising them again.

What I will note is that I do find it curious that Mr Dunkley does not appear to have pursued defamation charges against Mr Smith back in 2007 or to date – or, at least, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to that effect in the media.

If Mr Dunkley is pursuing defamation charges against Mr Bean in reference to the allegations raised by Mr Smith, it seems odd that Mr Smith, as the originator of the allegations, is not being pursued also.

A bigger question, to my mind, is how our political biases seem to cloud our perceptions of guilt or innocence here.

Many allegations have been made against PLPers, most with much less credibility than that of the former head of Narcotics questioning Mr Dunkley’s involvement in this drugs case.

And yet, no matter how much PLPers or the accused PLPer has tried to distance themselves from those allegations, they stick and resonate within anti-PLPers minds, or so it would appear.

The allegations of Dr Brown appropriating cedar beams is perhaps the most obvious, but so are the allegations that Dr Brown engineered the bullet in the mail incident, or that he used corrupt methods to obtain the PLP Leadership (by buying votes apparently).

And yet, allegations made against an (then UBP) OBA MP are readily dismissed by anti-PLPers as mere politricking or malicious and made-up.

It just seems to me that there is a major perceptual double-standard at play here, at least politically, and, what is practically the same thing in the Bermudian context, racially.

Inhibiting Free & Frank Exchange on Social Media?

Now, as noted, I’m not making any judgement call on the viability of Mr Dunkley’s defamation suit against Mr Bean, nor am I in a position to judge the validity of any of the various allegations noted above.

Unless someone is able to bring forward evidence to back up any of them, they just seem to be so much hearsay to me.  At best I can comment on how I believe this or that affects so and so in terms of political credibility and damage.

I do, however, question the wisdom of Mr Dunkley’s actions here.

If he had hoped it would draw a line under these allegations (by Mr Smith), then I think it’s a counter-productive move which only raises more questions for him to deal with.

My bigger concern though is that the threat of such a suit may inhibit free and frank exchange on social media – where there has been a steady explosion of Bermudian political discourse over the last two years, specifically on the Bermuda Election 2012 and OBA sites, which have largely eclipsed the blogs and internet forums that came before them.

It’s a delicate balance, and this incident may serve as a precedent for going forward.

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2 thoughts on “Dunkley’s Defamation Debacle – A threat to political exchanges in social media?

  1. It was noted on FB that I had made no comment regarding the former Premier Dr Ewart Brown issuing a writ against a Mr Noel Ashford, and that that too should be seen as a possible attempt to inhibit a free and frank exchange of political discourse on social media – as it also involved comments on Facebook.

    I had largely missed that story when it came out, and I don’t think I was active in posting at the time either.

    I concur that it also could be seen as inhibiting online discourse.

    The article about it though is less clear about what the writ is about though, so it’s harder for me to really comment.

    Also, it involves an ex-politician, whereas the current case involves a current one, which, to me, makes this one more pertinent – although it in no way detracts from the potential for the other case to also inhibit online discourse.

    The link to the write filed by Dr Brown is here: http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20130910/NEWS/130919973

  2. Hi Jonathan
    interesting times. I believe this is less an issue about facts (was Dunkley a co-conspirator in importing drugs ?- does so and so smoke coke ? and who did put the bullet in the mail?) and more about one’s own personal responsibility in an internet age where anyone can say anything to an infinitely wide audience.

    Rather than suing Mr. Bean for “defamation” (my gawd we’ve all been down this tiresome road before) he should simply point out Mr. Bean’s immaturity of thought and somehow tie that in to our new collective responsibilities with this newfound open platform of communication called fb.

    We will be no more successful than poor old king Canute (was he the one who tried to stop the tide?) trying to defend ourselves against the fb sea of libelous facts. Entertainment posing as communication.

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