Me­dia Run­ning Scared?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Rick Wayne

How ironic that the man who in a 1786 let­ter to Dr. James Cur­rie had main­tained that “our lib­erty de­pends on the free­dom of the press and can­not be limited with­out be­ing lost,” fa­mously had also stated: “Noth­ing can now be be­lieved which is seen in a news­pa­per. Truth it­self be­comes sus­pi­cious by be­ing put into that pol­luted ve­hi­cle.”

I can­not imag­ine what could have brought about such a volte-face on the part of Thomas Jefferson (his se­cret sex life with a black woman, per­haps?) but I fully in­tend to un­der­take the nec­es­sary re­search. In the mean­time I am re­minded of Hugo Black, the for­mer as­so­ciate jus­tice of the United States Supreme Court, who, in The New York Times v United States (1971) held that “an un­con­di­tional right to say what one pleases about pub­lic af­fairs is what I con­sider to be the min­i­mum guar­an­tee of the First Amend­ment.”

Black also be­lieved that “only a free and un­re­strained press can ef­fec­tively ex­pose de­cep­tion in gov­ern­ment.” For his part, James Madi­son (he wrote the first drafts of the United States Con­sti­tu­tion) had ad­vo­cated that “the peo­ple shall not be de­prived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sen­ti­ments, and the free­dom of the press, as one of the great bul­warks of lib­erty, shall be in­vi­o­lable.”

I am writ­ing at a time when le­gal ea­gles from the UK and New York are in Saint Lu­cia hold­ing a two-day sem­i­nar with fel­low ju­rists from Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean. Also, this morn­ing (Satur­day) lo­cal me­dia per­son­nel in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Caribbean Me­dia Work­ers and the In­ter­na­tional Press In­sti­tute, will sit down to con­sider “vol­un­tary sel­f­reg­u­la­tion.”

ACM’s pres­i­dent Wes­ley Gib­bings has de­fined the propo­si­tion as “an ef­fec­tive shield, not only against the ex­cesses of dom­i­nant state and pri­vate hold­ers of power but against the in­dul­gences of er­rant me­dia them­selves.”

He cites the 2012 Sir Brian Leve­son re­port that ac­cord­ing to Gib­bings had ob­served that “for many years there have been com­plaints that cer­tain parts of the press ride roughshod over oth­ers, both in­di­vid­u­als and the pub­lic at large, with­out jus­ti­fi­able pub­lic in­ter­est.”

Writes Gib­bings in his own “Build­ing a Frame­work for Me­dia Self-Reg­u­la­tion in the Caribbean,” the Leve­son re­port “went so far as to pro­pose a form of whis­tle-blow­ing pro­tec­tion for jour­nal­ists who felt they might be put un­der pres­sure to do things that were un­eth­i­cal.”

Although Gib­bings cites the work­ing lives of jour­nal­ists in the UK, New Zealand and else­where, he seems to have found lit­tle to con­cern him about jour­nal­ism in our re­gion (or so it ap­peared to my per­haps jaun­diced eyes!).

Nev­er­the­less he writes: “The de­vel­op­ment of a con­cep­tual frame­work for me­dia self-reg­u­la­tion in the Caribbean would ben­e­fit from a clin­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion of the per­for­mance of both ex­ist­ing and statu­to­rily de­ter­mined con­tent re­stric­tions and self-im­posed stan­dards both in the case of in­di­vid­ual in­sti­tu­tions and at the level of the me­dia in­dus­try as a whole.”

Almost as an af­ter­thought, Gib­bings adds: “It would also be im­por­tant to en­sure that what­ever the prog­no­sis, free­dom of ex­pres­sion con­sid­er­a­tions re­main in­te­gral to the chart­ing of a way for­ward!”

Sev­eral years ago, back in the early 90s, I sus­pect, I joined Rickey Singh and other ev­i­dently con­cerned jour­nal­ists from around the re­gion at a some­what des­per­ate meet­ing in Bar­ba­dos. The stated pur­pose was to dis­cuss, yes, vol­un­tary self-reg­u­la­tion.

As I re­call, it was the sel­f­revered Singh’s sug­ges­tion that it would be wise for the re­gional press to be per­ceived as mak­ing an ef­fort to con­trol it­self be­fore re­gional gov­ern­ments in­evitably step in with their teeth-pulling tools—as if al­ready our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers had not made it clear, con­trary to Jefferson, that they would pre­fer to have no press at all.

I need only re­mind read­ers that al­ready self-cen­sor­ship is writ­ten all over the face of the Saint Lu­cia me­dia. Or is it some­thing else that pre­vents us (news­wor­thi­ness sta­tus, for ex­am­ple?) from writ­ing about such his­toric events as the suit brought by Trea­sure Bay St. Lu­cia Limited against The Gaming Au­thor­ity; the Na­tional Lot­ter­ies Au­thor­ity; the Min­is­ter for So­cial Trans­for­ma­tion, Youth and Sports, and the Cab­i­net of Saint Lu­cia?

Bet­ter to rest my case at this point and re­sist touch­ing on Jack Gryn­berg v The Gov­ern­ment of Saint Lu­cia fi­asco, now pend­ing be­fore the ICSID. At any rate, un­til I’ve re­turned from to­day’s MASL meet­ing, spon­sored by UNESCO, Mon­roe Col­lege and sim­i­larly au­gust bod­ies.

Did I men­tion that ap­pear­ing for the claimant in Trea­sure Bay v The Gov­ern­ment of Saint Lu­cia was Mr. Peter I. Foster QC—Speaker of our House of Par­lia­ment?

Ju­rists from Latin Amer­ica, the UK, the Caribbean re­gion and the US at the open­ing of their two-day sem­i­nar on Thurs­day

at Bay Gar­dens Beach Re­sort.

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