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Fallout in 'dirty' St Joseph campaign
Tensions reached near fever pitch yesterday ahead of Monday’s hotly contested St Joseph by-election, when lawyers representing one political party and two private individuals shot off pre-action protocol letters threatening legal action if their requests were not complied with. People’s National Movement (PNM) leader Dr Keith Rowley’s lawyers wrote to all media houses, including Guardian Media Ltd, demanding they stop publishing and broadcasting controversial “split vote” ads that have appeared across newspapers and on television this week. In the other case, Crime Watch host and UNC candidate Ian Alleyne was also served a pre-action protocol letter calling on him to stop playing the theme song for his show at political meetings. On October 30, Rowley’s lawyers, Alexander, Jeremie & Company, told media owners the inclusion of the words “from Keith,” and “on behalf of the PNM,” without their client’s permission “infringes his common-law right to the protection of his image...and infringes the terms of Part 19.1 of the Advertising Code.” Section 19.1 of the code protects individual privacy, and declares: “Individual living persons or their identifiable possessions shall not be portrayed or referred to in advertisements without the permission of the individual or owner concerned.”
Rowley, the letter says, did not give his permission. The television version of the ad also included a balisier watermark—the symbol of the PNM—which, the law firm says, is not authorised to be used by anybody except the PNM leader. John Jeremie, SC, a partner at the firm, is a former PNM attorney general. The letter said the offence is actionable, as the ad purports to be a letter from Rowley, and gave media houses until 2 pm that day to comply. The satirical ads, described as a “dirty ad campaign,” prompted confusion amongst readers and disgust amongst PNM and Independent Liberal Party (ILP) politicians, as they purported to be a thank-you letter from Rowley to ILP leader Jack Warner. Designed by Ross Advertising, they also provoked the ire of the advertising standards body, the Advertising Agencies Association (AAATT), which said they broke a fundamental rule of the advertising code for political ads, as they did not name the advertiser.
The ads were pulled from the T&T Guardian and Express in the wake of the controversy but reappeared again yesterday carrying a footnote describing the ad as “a message from the Concerned Citizens of T&T.” The TTPBA subsequently issued a release saying, “To date the TTPBA has been advised by members that the ad was revised and now conforms to the advertising standards.”
The AAATT, however, suggests the ads are still in breach, as the identity (“Concerned Citizens of T&T”) was not legitimate. The first television ad appeared on TV6 on Monday morning, featuring a voiceover impersonation of Rowley reading out a fictional text message to his ILP counterpart Warner, thanking him “on behalf of the PNM” for splitting the local government election vote and signing off, “from Keith.”
Ads causing anger
The print version of the ad appeared on the same day in the T&T Guardian, Express and Newsday, signed “The Raging Bull” and expressing “personal gratitude” to Warner and the ILP, “on behalf of all those in opposition and every supporter of the balisier brigade on the victory you helped secure for us.” On Wednesday, Ross expressed his dismay that the ad had been banned, saying it was clearly a piece of political satire and was no different from the usual kind of political ads that run around election times. Yesterday, Alleyne was sent a pre-action protocol letter for breach of copyright of the theme song for his programme, The Hunt is On, by the two creators of the song. The song has been played before Alleyne appears on UNC platforms to campaign for the November 4 by-election.
Senior attorney for the Copyright Organisation (COTT), Dave McKenzie, said yesterday the six-page letter had been served on Alleyne and called on him to immediately stop using the song for political campaigning. McKenzie is representing Ryan Romany and Jerome Huggins, both from Tunapuna. The letter said the song was written by Huggins and performed by his classmate “Kwin” while they were 18-year-old students at St Joseph’s College, St Joseph. The song was subsequently produced by soca artiste Sherwyn Winchester and published by Romany. Asked what was “Kwin’s” proper name, McKenzie said he had asked the name be left out of the letter, adding that he had no choice but to do so, as he was not McKenzie’s client.
The letter told Alleyne: “My instructions are that through several meetings held between you and Mr Huggins, it was understood and agreed that at all material times the song would be used strictly for the purpose of fighting crime in T&T. “At no time was there any discussion between yourself and my client that you, without their permission, are free to use the song for political campaigning.” The letter said in Alleyne’s “eagerness and zeal” to use the song as the main anthem for the now suspended programme Crime Watch, he made several promises to Romany and Huggins in the presence of Kwin, which included:
• Alleyne promised to pay a stipend for use of the song
• In the presence of the song’s performer, Kwin, Alleyne promised he would give Romany and Huggins an entire show in which he would interview them in order to help promote their careers
• As well as a stipend Alleyne also promised to pay Romany and Huggins for the use of the song.
Calls to Alleyne’s cellphone went unanswered yesterday and messages left were not returned. Another legal issue involving Alleyne’s campaign arose on Wednesday, when the PNM called on the Integrity Commission to probe Alleyne’s use of state resources and facilities for projects in St Joseph, which the party said were being “viciously manipulated ultimately to the detriment of the people, particularly when the works and projects are being done at the very last minute and solely for the purpose of winning an election.”
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