Posted on

FULL STORY: We will not tolerate abuse of our journalists


FULL STORY: We will not tolerate abuse of our journalists

Social Share

THIS NEWSPAPER will not tolerate physical assaults on our staff, regardless of the quarter from which they emanate. And on the unfortunate occasions when they do occur, we will respond with every legitimate means at our disposal. Such attacks on journalists offend our freedoms as a people.

Yesterday morning, having received information that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, in the company of others, was seen on the site of the proposed Hyatt Hotel on Bay Street, St Michael, the News Editor dispatched the only photographer immediately available, Wharren Christopher.

Magazines Coordinator Natanga Smith, a veteran journalist, volunteered to drive him there.

As Christopher proceeded onto the site, he was told by the Prime Minister himself that it was a private meeting and his presence there amounted to disrespect. But the Prime Minister’s private meeting was taking place in broad daylight in the heart of the capital city in the full glare of every passing individual. 

He apologised to Mr Stuart and returned to the clearly marked Nation vehicle, from which he, via Ms Smith, brought the News Editor up to date.

Understanding clearly – as we are sure the Prime Minister also understands – the well established legal principle that an individual cannot expect privacy when he or she is in public, the News Editor instructed both individuals to capture photos and video of what was occurring from the safety of the public road.

Ms Smith was still standing on the sidewalk as the party exited the compound of Bethel Methodist Church, when one member of the party walked over to her and without saying a word, raised his hand and pushed her away.

Not knowing who the individual was, but having captured him in still photos and video, she went to Central Police Station and made an official criminal complaint. There she was told the person in the photograph was a member of the police’s Special Branch, the division charged with special national security duties, including protection of the Prime Minister.

We absolutely abhor such conduct by a public official and believe that the fact that the individual is a member of this arm of the Police Force only compounds the wrong. If Ms Smith’s standing beside a marked Nation vehicle taking photos amounted to a threat to the Prime Minister or to national security, then that officer had a duty to identify himself before taking whatever action he deemed lawful.

Physically assaulting a journalist was not one of the legal options available to him. In fact, it was not an action any police officer should contemplate when dealing with any member of the public, and that’s why we say such conduct amounts to an affront to our freedoms.

By every measure, the Hyatt Hotel project is a matter of incredible public interest and the Prime Minister must know that once he is seen there – particularly since he has final responsibility for all Town Planning matters and this is an issue that has put the developer at odds with the Chief Town Planner – it would attract the attention of the news media.

And we would also expect every member of the police’s Special Branch to be fully aware of the Media Policy of the Royal Barbados Police Force, and particularly Section 12 of Part 1, under the heading Editorial Content where it states: “Police officers shall not restrict news photographers from taking pictures merely because the officer may disagree with the nature/type of the pictures. It is the news photographer’s and the reporter’s job to gather information and take pictures. Editors will determine which photographs, footage or information they will run.”

Therefore, we also raise this matter in the public domain at this time because we believe it is important to state at the outset that we expect the police to treat this as they would any other criminal complaint [Ms Smith said she was told her report would be forwarded to the Office of Professional Responsibility]. Whatever may be the course of action taken internally, we expect the police to fully investigate Ms Smith’s criminal complaint.

The police are completely within their right to deal with any matter involving their own as having implications for the internal workings and integrity of the force, but Ms Smith did not make a misconduct complaint against a policeman. Her grievance was about what she considered criminal conduct by an unknown male. The fact that the police officers at Central Station recognised the male in the photograph as one of their own does not alter the validity her complaint.

Since taking office, Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith has shown clearly that he is prepared to take strong action when it comes to managing the affairs of the force and the conduct of its personnel. We expect nothing less on this occasion.