Group seeks $500 million in damages, claims stories defamed organization, were discriminatory
The Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology has filed a lawsuit against the Shawano Leader, claiming the newspaper had defamed and discriminated against the organization in news articles over the past five years.
The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Green Bay, claims that the Leader since March 2000 has “intentionally targeted” SIST by publishing “false, defamatory and discriminatory statements and news articles … with malicious intent or reckless disregard, and with the intended purpose of destroying” SIST and the businesses it owns.
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SIST over the past five years has purchased $8.3 million of property in and around Shawano, with the intent of establishing an international boarding school in Shawano.
The property purchases and other matters relating to SIST have been the subject of numerous stories by the Leader over the past several years, most notably a seven-day series last October that examined the history of the organization and its president, Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy.
Rod Christiansen, the publisher of the Leader, said Friday that SIST’s claims are without merit.
“The Leader and its newsroom has done its utmost to report on SIST both fairly and accurately,” Christiansen said. “SIST’s property purchases and related activities are of great interest to our readers, and our commitment is to provide thorough coverage. That’s what a community newspaper is supposed to do.”
Among the claims in the lawsuit are that the Leader’s coverage:
was “motivated by the racially and ethnically distinct background” of Samanta Roy. Court records state Samanta Roy was born in India.
were “meant to disrupt the peace and quiet of the Plaintiff’s use, enjoyment and possession of its properties, and disrupt the usual and legal business activities of the Plaintiff.”
has “grieviously injured” SIST “in its good name, character, reputation and standing in the community and with the general public, and that the Plaintiff “reputation as honorable, respectable and ethical persons and businesses and as having integrity with high moral standards has been deeply damaged.”
Leader editor Kent Tempus said those allegations are false.
“We have not written about Dr. Samanta Roy or SIST because of his nationality or to damage his businesses,” Tempus said. “Our reporting has been motivated by the public’s interest and concern over his property purchases. The amount of false and inaccurate information that spreads through the community about SIST is large, and we believe our reporting provides the accurate information that sets the record straight.”
Besides SIST’s property purchases, the Leader also reported last year on a lawsuit related to allegations that SIST violated Wisconsin’s minimum gas price markup law. A judge ruled that one day, SIST did violate the law, and ordered SIST to pay the owners of six gas stations in Shawano a total of $12,000. The ruling is on appeal.
The lawsuit also alleges the Leader “severely interfering with (SIST’s) business relationships with vendors, suppliers and business associates and colleagues.”
Tempus said that reporting on property purchases, lawsuits and other matters of public record cannot be construed to be interfering with anyone’s business or business relationships. He also noted the Leader has attempted several times over the years to either meet with Samanta Roy or get on the record remarks from his representatives. Samanta Roy canceled two meetings that had been scheduled with the Leader a few years ago, and virtually all other efforts to get a response from SIST to the Leader’s questions have met with silence.
One other allegation in the suit is that the Leader “conspired with other news media outlets to deprive (SIST) of its civil rights,” and cites an article published April 11 in the Leader headlined “Prices at SIST gas station in Minnesota drawing attention.”
The story was originally published in the April 9 edition of the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, and outlined a gas price war in the Twin Cities area.
Tempus said the Leader published the story because of the local interest in SIST, and because SIST is based in Shawano.
“The contention that Leader conspires with other news media to report on SIST is simply ludicrous,” Tempus said, noting that newspapers that don’t compete directly for readership often share information and stories.
The lawsuit – which also names Leader reporter Tim Ryan and Lee Enterprises which co-owns the company that operates the Leader, as defendants – seeks $500 million in damages and costs.
Christiansen said that the lawsuit is an effort by SIST to intimidate the Leader into not reporting its property purchases and other activities.
“We will not be deterred in doing what we think is right in serving our readers,” Christiansen said.
SIST last Tuesday announced it had filed lawsuits against four Minnesota media companies in connection with their coverage and articles concerning SIST’s Exxon gas station in Anoka, Minn. and the ongoing gas price war there. The suit alleges “interference with business, defamation and defamation per se.”
The complaints were filed Tuesday in federal court against the Star-Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, KSTP-TV, WCCO-TV, SIST’s statement said.