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IRO president wants to sue TV station

Pundit claims defamatory statements made over Warner row

By Aabida Allaham aabida.allaham@trinidadexpress.com

THE president of the Inter-Religious Organisation, Pundit Harrypersad Maharaj, says he intends to take legal action against a local television station for statements made on Monday night.

"That report was incorrectly carried on CNC3 and it was defamatory as I never made such statements," he said.

During its newscast, CNC3 reportedly said Maharaj had endorsed National Security Minister Jack Warner's decision not to attend the opening of the Divali Nagar last week Sunday because an invitation was given to Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.

The station was reporting on the statements he made during the Divali celebrations at the ministry's head office in Port of Spain on Monday.

During a telephone interview with the Express yesterday, however, Maharaj claimed what he said and what was reported "is not the same".

"Read what one reporter had to say and what they have said and you would see ... how it is that two people had two different things to say," he said.

According to Maharaj, what he said on Monday was that the message Warner gave, tracing the ancestry of the East Indians who came to this country and explaining the trials and tribulations they experienced, was what he supported.

Not Warner's statement about how "wearing a kurta does not make one your friend" or his decision not to attend the opening of the Divali Nagar.

When Maharaj completed his speech, Warner thanked him for his support saying "very often, we live in a country where people lack conviction, lack a sense of purpose, and when you, Pundit Maharaj, can come here and say publicly that you support what I said last Saturday, you stand ten feet tall".

However, Maharaj said just because Warner thanked him does not mean he directly supported Warner's views yet "the news made it sound like that".

He said: "CNC3 has brought the Hindu community into disrepute and all I can say is that they will have to respond to this.

"These statements were defamatory and I intend to take some form of legal action because it was slanderous, disrespectful to me, disrespectful to the IRO and to the Hindu community."

Maharaj added that since the newscast aired, religious leaders and lawyers have been calling him nonstop.

"Everyone has been calling me to correct this thing, but (yesterday) being a holiday, not too much I can do. But I repeat that it is not a good statement and I will have to deal with the media on this," he said.

When contacted for a comment, deputy head of news at CNC3, Sampson Nanton—who voiced the piece—sent an e-mail explaining why they reported what they did.

"Mr Warner made the kurta statement in his speech Saturday. Mr Maharaj admitted that many reporters were calling him to get a comment on Mr Warner's speech. He also said he wanted to respond in light of the media being there and went on to commend the speech.

"Mr Warner in turn thanked heartily for his support in light of the fact that he had been under scrutiny for his statement.

"We reported that. If Mr Maharaj believes he was wronged and that he does not support Mr Warner's statements regarding the kurta, we'd be certainly very happy to talk with him further and give him a chance to express his view with more clarity via a follow-up news story," he said.

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