Legal Drama

Chocolate City Accuses TheNETng.com of Libel Over Jesse Jagz Story BUT Is it Really Libel?

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Nigerian Entertainment Lawyers Audu Maikori and Yahaya Maikori.jpgChocolate City Records has released a statement accusing Thenetng.com of libel. The accusation comes  a day after Thenetng.com published an exclusive story providing details from an insider as to the basis for why Jesse Jagz shocked the music industry, fans and public with his abrupt and crude departure from the label. Read my criticism and commentary on the story and the label here.

As to this release, there are several important questions to ask here:

1. Is it really libel? If so, is there a defense that could apply which negates the libel accusation?

2. Why does Chocolate City think it ought to remain mute on this specific crude departure? Imagine Sasha P of Storm 360 leaving Storm 360  in the exact same manner that Jagz just did and expecting  the public, fans and media would not have a right to know what happened. Really? At a minimum, Storm 360 would be expected to step forward and defuse the situation. IGNORING it is rude, a disrespect to fans, the public, media et al.  and amounts to “I don’t care about you.” No one needs the details. It is enough to say, “Yes Jesse Jagz is no longer with Chocolate City, we support his work with Jagz Nation and he remains a part of the Chocolate City family. ” We don’t need recitations of your internal drama, you can keep it to yourself. With time, if it is meant to spill out, it will.

Where Chocolate City fails to take this basic rudimentary step to inform the public as a label,  the public has a right to know and the media has a right to deliver on that right to know,especially since the persons involved here are all public figures. TheNetng.com ( I wonder if their ISP providers are in the USA)  has not said, this in fact happened. They are saying, based on fulfilling their job and the need to know desires of the public and I would argue fair comment, they sought information from insiders within Chocolate City (a very tight group I may add) and insiders allege the many allegations made.

Further, the statement by CC that the publication did not try to contact them is ridiculous, at best. Audu Maikori, spokesperson and executive at CC, is scheduled to speak at an upcoming inaugural NETng Entertainment Conference event.  Arguably given Audu’s highly credible personal brand, he would not affiliate with a brand that is less than credible. He has affiliated and continues to do so with TheNetng.com.  THE NET is a very credible brand and Osagie Alonge, the reporter who wrote this story, is clear TheNetng made efforts to reach the label through numerous mediums but the label executives  remained unresponsive. So, I am unsure what the claim about not making efforts to verify the accuracy of the story is all about.

In any event, are the allegations by Chocolate City against Thenetng.com fair or is it a way to detract from the issue? Yes, artists leave labels all the time, we see it 24/7. However, it is NOT okay for one of the top brands in Nigeria with international recognition to have their own artist get on social media and call it quits in the manner he did with the label. Frankly, it was  very reckless of the artist and a reflection of either a personal health issue or something else going on. It also shows a breakdown within the organization and makes those who care (fans, media et al.) uncertain about its future. To disregard these feelings is ridiculous. What’s more disturbing is that this artist has been, almost right from the inception of the label, signed with the label. Further and equally disturbing is that this artist’s  brother M.I Abaga, the alleged face of today’s contemporary African hip-hop (i.e. represents an entire continent of Africa), is the Vice President of Chocolate City.

Chocolate City, don’t you dare tell the media or anyone for that matter outside of your organization to stay mute. You have a right to continue to choose to ignore and not deal with the issue. Likewise, the public and media has a right to ask, inquire and seek to know what the heck that move Jagz pulled was all about, albeit within the bounds of the law. You can simply shut it down with a clear acknowledgement of the departure and take the focus off you.

Libel

On the Nigerian end of things, Chocolate City claims libel. If thenetng.com retorts with “Fair comment” is it still libel? They can have that battle in court should the brand decide that is the route it wants to take. On the USA end of things, assuming Chocolate City could sue, they have an even tougher hurdle to beat a case such as this, certainly by virtue of practically everyone at CC being public figures.

I’ll be as blunt as I possibly can with this case. I don’t like how Chocolate City is handling this. It is ridiculous to expect that a brand of your caliber, respected et al. and gaining international recognition; can have a reputable artist who has been with the brand for almost five (5) years, get on Facebook and announce his departure and those who are invested in the brand emotionally, financially (fans, media, et al., ) should just stand there and take it. You have a duty to let us know what the heck is going on. In addition, waiting until a highly credible media does what they are supposed to do only for you to then attack the media is preposterous. Control the bleeding internally and at least acknowledge the feelings of those who give a what about the brand. Clearly I’m not feeling the CC approach right about now.

Read their press release and then read my excerpt/analysis on libel. Get to the end to see the media’s defense both from a US and Nigeria take.

-Uduak

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The rumour mill has been working overtime and the result is some information that has surfaced online regarding the Choc City versus Jesse Jags story. The NETNG.com website produced libellous information which made several allegations against the record label without confirming facts prior to the release.

In one allegation, it made comments that Choc City had two so-called “strong claims” against the said Artiste, one of which stated that Jesse Jags owed the label some un-paid debt and the other which claimed the label leaked that the Artiste was addicted to Marijuana. World PR Media (who recently began to handle PR activities on behalf of the label) released the following facts and forwarded the following statements on behalf of Choc City. -Notjustok.com

Chocolate City Statement
“Chocolate City has never released information on any owed monies by the Artiste “Jesse Jagz” and as a matter of fact is not being owed any monies by the Artiste through show performances or other means”. Furthermore, Chocolate City also states categorically that “Jesse Jagz does not have a history of Marijuana abuse neither did it or any of its staff make any allegations to that effect”.

In other parts of the defamatory release, it claimed that Jesse’s Manager “Sola Oladebo” was fed up of the Artiste but unwilling to leave him as yet. We can officially confirm that Jesse and Sola have had a very strong relationship over the past 5 years and this relationship continues as we speak. The entertainment website also continued to paint a very untrue picture of the relationship of the Artiste and the record label by claiming Jesse’s career was dormant. The Legal and Content Manager of the label commented and confirmed that “at no time has Jesse Jagz career been dormant. Stating that Jesse Jagz career has been dormant is a gross understatement as he has since the release of Jagz of All Trades, focused on the production aspect of his career working with Brymo and Ice Prince on their respective albums as well as featuring on several songs with various artists. His sophomore album Jagznation VOl1 will be released in 2013 as scheduled”. Furthermore, “it is untrue that Jesse Jagz has refused to appear at the Chocolate City Office when invited. At all material times Jesse and his team have always responded and communicated with Chocolate City in respect to all matters and continue to do so”.

Whilst certain issues are still under resolution, the Chief Executive Officer of the Music Group, Mr. Audu Maikori, confirms that “I never sent a summons to Jesse Jagz nor did I receive any derogatory email from Jesse Jagz refusing to attend any meetings”. What is even more ludicrous is that Audu Maikori has been in the USA on official business and as such couldn’t have summoned Jesse for a meeting when he was abroad. Jesse and Audu have and have always had a cordial and respectful relationship, a relationship that still exists till date.

Frankly we are surprised that a newspaper of such caliber as NETNG will give several conflicting stories in the same report. On one hand it states that “Attempts to reach him(Audu) and other staff at the label through emails, phone calls and text messages have been unsuccessful” Yet on the other hand they say that a “Chocolate City Staff” informed them about the above statements. For purposes of clarity, Chocolate City and its staff have not made any statements/ comments about any of the events till now.

The released statement from the Chocolate City camp ended with this encouraging note “Finally, we understand the concerns of fans and well wishers in respect the alleged Jesse Jagz “war” with Chocolate City. Our position is that there is no war within our camp. Like any relationship, there are ups and downs especially in our type of business, however, rest assured that these issues will be resolved and communicated subsequently”. “Thanks for your concern and continued support”.

 

LIBEL COMMENTARY (USA/NIGERIA)

According to the (Nigeria’s) Supreme Court, “The tort of defamation is either libel or slander, the difference being that the former is written while the latter is spoken.

The essential ingredients of libel are:
1. The words complained of must have been written;
2. The publication must be false
3. The words must be defamatory or convey defamatory imputation;
4. The words must refer to the plaintiff;
5. I t must be the defendant who published the words;
6. The onus is on the plaintiff to prove he was the one referred to in the alleged libel.”

NOTE: If you want to prove your libel case in Nigeria, the law requires an actual reproduction of the entire article you say is libelous.

“For the plaintiff to succeed in a case of Libel he must reproduce verbatim the whole of the article or the particular passage he complains of in his pleadings.” –See Guardian Newspaper v. Pastor Rjei (note the parties are listed the way they are because the case was appealed by the Guardian newspaper. In the lower trial court when the case was first filed, it would be listed as Pastor Rjei v. Guardian.)

Damages/Money You Win
If the court finds that a Plaintiff wins his/her case, what next? The court has to tell the Plaintiff how much s/he won.

“In libel cases, once the offensive article is found to be libelous of the plaintiff, damages follow and the damages awarded is general damages. On the other hand where there is direct pecuniary benefit from the offensive publication punitive damages are awarded. See Awolowo v. Kingsway Stores Ltd & Anor.”

NOTE: Punitive damages is awarded to punish a person.

When the court is awarding damages, it must consider the following factors when exercising (its) discretion:
(a) The standing of the plaintiff in society
(b) The nature of the Libel
(c) The mode and extent of the publication
(d) The refusal to retract or render an apology to the plaintiff
(e) The value of the local currency

See Mayange v. Panoh Nig Ltd 1994 7NWLR pt .358 p. 570, Ziks Press Ltd v. Alvan Ikoku 13 WACA p.188

FINAL COMMENTS
Defendants can claim qualified Privilege or Fair Comment, among others, as a defense. Often, “Fair Comment” is used as a defense.

A couple of things on “fair comment.” When you file a lawsuit in Nigerian courts for defamation including libel and slander, there is a presumption of a “technical malice” as the Supreme Court has been quoted in saying in other similar defamation cases. This means it is presumed that the Defendant acted with Malice. Once the defendant, the person you sued i.e. media says, “your honor it was a “fair comment!” that presumption is rebutted and now, you must make a claim and showing of “actual malice” if you want punitive damages aka (punishment money).

In the USA, we get to a malice analysis  if celebrity/public figures are involved. That is because the US Supreme Court in the 1964 New York Times Co. v. Sullivan did away with the common law use of “Fair Comment.” The Court reasoned that the US values the freedom of the press which includes freedom from punishment just because you publish a story. When public officials/celebrity figures act, their conduct is in the public interest, and as such, the public has the “right to know.” Therefore, the standard is a lot tougher to defeat when a celebrity sues a newspaper/blogger etc. for defamation.

Finally, what is “fair comment?” I like this Wikipedia definition which almost seems like a play on the malice doctrine, although it discusses US law.

“In the United States, the traditional privilege of “fair comment” is seen as a protection for robust, even outrageous published or spoken opinions about public officials and public figures. Fair comment is defined as a “common law defense [that] guarantees the freedom of the press to express statements on matters of public interest, as long as the statements are not made with ill will, spite, or with the intent to harm the plaintiff”

-Uduak

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Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Uduak Oduok (Ms. Uduak) is a fashion and entertainment lawyer, speaker, visionary, gamechanger, trailblazer, and recognized thought leader, for her work on Africa’s emerging global fashion and entertainment markets, and the niche practice of fashion law in the United States. She is also the founder of ‘Africa Music Law,’ an industry go-to music business and law blog and podcast show empowering African artists. Her work in the creative and legal industries has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including an award from the American University Washington College of Law for her “legal impact in the field of intellectual property in Africa." She has also taught as an Adjunct Professor at several institutions in the United States. For more information, visit her at https://msuduak.com.

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