Fighting a mid-summer media chill

Michael Johansen
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“I’m against the project — always have been,” I said on a live radio call-in show earlier this year: the Jan. 17 edition of “Radio Noon’s Crosstalk” with Ramona Dearing. The topic? “Our question is whether we’re rushing the Muskrat Falls hydro project,” should any lawyers or their litigious clients wish to look it up and listen for themselves.

“It’s a huge waste of money. It’ll serve no economic purpose. It’ll make a few people a lot of money while it’s being built, but afterwards it’s going to be this big white elephant sitting in the middle of Labrador, joining the other big white elephant that’s sitting further in the middle of Labrador: Churchill Falls.

“The whole thing’s been rushed from the start with no regard for the true consequences. Joey Smallwood didn’t care about the consequences of building Churchill Falls, rushed it through, wreaked massive destruction across Labrador — still feeling it now — didn’t even make anyone any money.

“No government has ever entertained the notion that this project shouldn’t go ahead, and every time it has collapsed — because they’ve tried time after time to get it through (Liberal or Conservative, it doesn’t matter) — every time it’s collapsed it hasn’t been because of the opposition to it … it always collapsed because it failed economically, or politically, or financially, but time after time they keep going back at it and treat these hearings as if they’re just things they have to go through before the project eventually happens, regardless of opposition.”

That’s what I said and anyone could have heard it.

I assume many people did, including the in-studio guest, former Progressive Conservative natural resources minister Shawn Skinner, who could certainly have told his former boss all about it.

Not listening?

But apparently Skinner was either not listening to me (which would not be surprising), or he didn’t recognize the grievous offence I’d committed by publicly voicing the opinion that the people who want to build more dams on Labrador’s Grand River are motivated largely by short-term greed and display little or no regard for the demonstrably harmful consequences of their actions.

I mean, do you actually have to use particular magic words in order to get sued for defamation?

Apparently so, since former premier Danny Williams chose to wait almost six months before he selected someone else to sue for saying essentially the same thing as me on a provincially broadcast radio call-in show: namely, Bruno Marcocchio, who was supposedly speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club of Canada.

Marcocchio is reported to have used pithier words than I did. He said what I said, only better.

Why the six-month delay when Williams could have been well into the joys of litigation by now?

Well, maybe he and his new bosses just don’t listen to the CBC, or maybe just not to me. Maybe he doesn’t mind being told he acts a certain way, but doesn’t like the specific descriptive noun.

I don’t particularly want to be sued by a former premier (despite the boost such court actions often lend to journalistic careers), but I thought it would be fair to point out that if Williams is so anxious to prove that he’s not what Marcocchio said, and if he plans to take everyone to court who has ever publicly opposed the Newfoundland government’s hydroelectric plans on the grounds that they will only serve to make a few people a lot of money (people who don’t seem to care about the environmental, social and economic damage they will wreak), then he’s going to have to draw up a long, long list and he’ll be spending a long, long time in expensive litigation.

Oh, I have a personal question: if Williams sues me, wins and takes all my stuff, does he assume the mortgage payments on my house, or are they still my responsibility?

Michael Johansen is a writer

living in Labrador.

Organizations: Sierra Club of Canada, CBC

Geographic location: Labrador, Muskrat Falls, Grand River

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