The New Today

A stain on press freedom!!!

THE NEW TODAY is not taking lightly the action of Sergeant of Police Emerson Baptiste to prevent its representative George Worme from covering a matter which came up before the St George’s No.1 Magistrate’s Court last Friday.

Mr. Worme was ordered to leave the court on the grounds that he was not properly dressed and strongly believes that the Policeman was acting against him in a high-handed manner as he was not in violation of the stipulated Dress Code as posted on the Notice Board for the attention of the Public, since he was wearing a company T-shirt.

The journalist found this action against him to be strange as he was allowed to enter the Court House by the Policeman in uniform who is stationed at the front door leading to the inside of the courtroom.

Another police officer who was dressed in plain clothes like Baptiste then tried to defend the action by giving the false impression that it was done on the orders of the Magistrate.

THE NEW TODAY was assured by the newly appointed Acting Chief Magistrate Francine Foster through her staffer that she did not issue any such instructions to the police to put out journalists from her court and the matter should be raised with the High Command of the Force.

Why would a police officer tell such a blatant untruth and seek to implicate a Magistrate in his act of illegality and wrongdoing?

This issue raises serious concerns about the integrity of some members of the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) and their credibility.

Are police officers always speaking the truth when giving evidence in matters before the court? How many of them are prepared to tell lies even on oath before the court?

If there is any doubt about the behaviour of some police officers, it was clearly displayed last Friday by the manner in which they attempted to hide behind the Magistrate in trying to trample on the rights of the media.

The members of RGPF should understand that they are not lawmakers as that is the duty and responsibility of Parliament to make the laws for the governance of the State.

The Police Force has the responsibility to ensure that the public do obey the laws that are in force at a particular point in time and not take it upon themselves to make their own laws.

The High Court Judges and Magistrates are the ones in charge of running their respective courts and not the police officers who want to take on their own and decide who should and should not be allowed to enter the courthouses.

Several Chief Magistrates from the days of Justice Lyle St Paul and right down the line to Teddy St Louis have always been accommodating to the media by finding ways to give them access to cover matters brought before the court for hearing.

The outgoing Teddy St Louis took the position that the Press should always be allowed in court because that is the only way that they would get it right in being present to hear the proceedings and to report accurately on matters as opposed to being kept out and getting the story wrong.

It is also not unusual for Magistrates to use the presence of the media in their courts to make fundamental statements which they want to bring to the attention of the authorities to deal with in the interest of promoting justice in the society.

The hierarchy of RGPF cannot promote the need for co-operation of the media on one hand and then on the other hand have some of the officers treat the press as an enemy.

THE NEW TODAY will not sit idle and allow the rights of the free and independent media to be trampled upon by members of RGPF or any other person in Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique.

The Prime Minister and Minister of Information Dickon Mitchell should be reminded that Grenada has certain obligations at the international level to ensure that Press freedom is never curtailed in the country.

Grenada has emerged from the dark days when press freedom was curtailed during the era of former Prime Minister Eric Gairy and the 1979-83 left-leaning People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of the late Maurice Bishop and to a lesser extent of Keith Mitchell and his New National Party (NNP) government.

The bad apples in RGPF who might be inclined to use party colours to cloud their minds, eyes and judgment would not be allowed to get away with their efforts to single out certain journalists for harsh treatment.

In case many are not aware, on June 22, 1998, former Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell made Grenada a signatory to the Declaration of Chapultepec, one of several treaties guaranteeing freedom of the press at a ceremony in the presence of journalists and foreign officials during a news conference in St. George’s.

Among the principles agreed to were the following:- “A free society can thrive only through free expression and the exchange of ideas, the search for and the dissemination of information, the ability to investigate and question, to propound and react, to agree and disagree, to converse and confront, to publish and broadcast.

“Only by exercising these principles will it be possible to guarantee individuals and groups their right to receive impartial and timely information.

“Without freedom there can be no true order, stability and justice. And without freedom of expression there can be no freedom. Freedom of expression and the seeking, dissemination and collection of information can be exercised only if freedom of the press exists.

“We know that the existence of press freedom does not automatically guarantee unrestricted freedom of expression. But we also know that a free press favours an environment that nurtures freedom of expression and thereby benefits all other public freedoms.

“Without an independent media, assured of the guarantees to operate freely, to make decisions and to act on them fully, freedom of expression cannot be exercised. A free press is synonymous with free expression.”

RGPF and the new Congress government of Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell should be guided by this Treaty that guarantees press freedom in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

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