Commentary

Mitchell’s Attack on the Free Press

“Our democracy depends on an informed citizenry to survive. Besides the advancement of truth, science and morality in general, the freedom of the press is a backbone of democracy. It exists to keep the government transparent, and the human instruments of government honest.” ― Kenneth Eade

The NDC’s track record in office and in opposition is one of upholding the tenets of and respect for the institutions of the state. These institutions include the presence of a free and independent press – the fourth estate.

We recognise our unique responsibility as a main political party to be gatekeepers of our democracy and defenders of our institutions. In office, even in the face of harsh criticisms and a sometimes rocky relationship with the press, we have never engaged in censorship of the press of any kind.
We therefore view with grave concern, the recent intensification of the NNP’s control, manipulation and intimidation of the press. We will not sit quietly nor will we shirk our responsibility as gatekeepers of democracy, while the current administration runs amok, destroying every facet of our democratic society.

We must never forget that the current administration has attacked the Constitution, brazenly violating it on several occasions. They have attacked the Electoral office and electoral system, the public service and public servants, and the courts, by disgracefully neglecting the judiciary for many years.

Even in the Parliament, their agents stifle opposition voices. They habitually refuse to answer questions posed and even the President joins in by thwarting debate on matters of national interest as he recently did with Labour Senator Andre Lewis.

This state of affairs when put together with a muzzled press makes for an explosive cocktail. NDC urges the nation to wake up to the reality that we are operating under a one party tyrannical rule, clothe with the trappings of democracy. It is therefore urgent and critical that all sectors of our society unite in defence of the free press, our last bastion.

The apparent control and/or intimidation of the press mean that government is not being called to account to the people accurately or sometimes at all on serious matters of national interest. The press is being “forced” not to report fairly and fearlessly.

It does not help either, that a significant portion of the executive of the Media Workers’ Association (MWAG) is employed by the same oppressive, vindictive administration.

It is well known that often times, the interest of those in power will conflict with those of the free press. MWAG should perhaps consider an alternative model where government employees do not serve on its executive, thereby avoiding possible conflicts of interest and maintaining independence.

In recent weeks, the administration has ramped up its attack on the free press. Ms. Calistra Farrier is among the few journalists who attempt to do her job as the profession requires, in bringing factual, unbiased information to the public and asking probing questions of the Prime Minister and his agents.

In late July during the post-Cabinet briefing, Prime Minister Mitchell provided a wholly inappropriate and gruff response to Farrier’s wholly appropriate question on his current marital status.

As a public figure, the Prime Minister must appreciate that his marital status is of interest to the nation, especially since the people know and have come to appreciate Mrs. Marietta Mitchell over many years.

Then there was the Press Secretary’s unprofessional and out of place upbraiding of the press corps about 2 weeks later. Evidently, some probing question or questions unnerved her bosses so she had to act unprofessionally while lecturing her colleagues about being professional. Using members of the same institution to attack their peers is a classic sign of a growing dictatorship. It is time for our nation to take note of where we are headed.

Following those two (2) incidents, Ms. Farrier was again on the receiving end when an attempt was made to stop her from posing a question to the US Ambassador to Barbados & the Eastern Caribbean. In that instance, the Ambassador had to intervene and let the Press Secretary know that she was comfortable with the question and she did answer. The question concerned the secretive CBI program under which our passports are sold, sometimes to undesirables and even criminals.

Last week, the Minister of Information, Senator Winston Garraway resorted to assaulting Ms. Farrier who was persistent in her quest to get a comment from Dr. Clarice Modeste-Curwen, MP for the Constituency of St. Mark, on a matter relevant to that Constituency.

From all accounts, Garraway’s conduct was entirely uncalled for, disrespectful and utterly disgraceful. The photograph circulating paints a damning picture not just for Garraway but for the female Ministers, Modeste-Curwen and Mathurine-Stewart and the Press Secretary, who were all present.

What is more disturbing is that up until now, no one from the administration, especially the Prime Minister has come forward in condemnation of Garraway’s despicable conduct. Properly, the Prime Minister should have Garraway resign.

The NDC calls on all patriotic Grenadians to stand in opposition to this brazen attack on the free press. The media workers fraternity must also take seriously, its special responsibility to stand up and fight back against the ongoing attack on the free press.

(The above reflects the views of the main opposition National Democratic Congress)

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