Head of the Government Information Service (GIS), Rawle Titus has accused former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas of having sinister motives in getting his National Democratic Congress (NDC) government to decriminalize libel in Grenada.
Titus led a broadside against Thomas at a session held on the Dutch Caribbean island of in Curacao that brought together scores of regional media workers to participate in the 20th Anniversary of World Press Freedom Day and Caribbean Media Summit under the theme, “Safe to speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”.
He accused the former Grenadian leader of outlawing criminal libel as a special favour to help out former Editor of the defunct Grenada Today newspaper, George Worme who is considered to be a close political friend of Thomas.
“It was widely felt that then PM Thomas’ push for the change in defamation laws was motivated by his personal relationship with Worme”, Titus told the regional meeting of journalists.
“…Editor Worme, a friend and supporter of former Prime Minister Thomas would have benefited since he can no longer be arrested under a new Keith Mitchell administration which in its previous life had a list of court cases against media workers”, he said.
According to Titus, Worme was arrested and charged in 1999 with criminal libel “after writing an editorial that accused then – Prime Minister Keith Mitchell … now Prime Minister … of bribery”.
In reacting to Titus’ charges, Worme said that he would like the head of GIS to get all of his facts right and in good order before making misleading comments.
He said it was totally wrong for Titus to inform regional journalists that he was arrested for writing an editorial, which accused Mitchell of bribery.
“This is quite misleading and Mr. Titus should know better than that. He could have called me to verify the facts before peddling that kind of propaganda in Curacao. The case history is lodged in the Supreme Court Registry and Mr. Titus as a responsible journalist could have checked the files.
“As a matter of fact, Mr. Titus has unfettered access to his new boss who is Dr. Mitchell himself and could have double checked the facts with him. I hope that when he addresses the issue in future that he would do the proper homework and get the facts correct.
According to Titus, although ex-PM Thomas had given commitment while in opposition to the need to decriminalise libel and many believed that he had a passion to do it, there are those who queried his motives at the time for going ahead to fulfill the promise.
He said: “…His (Thomas’) motives for exercising the political will to decriminalise defamation quickly, months ahead of a general elections as his government tottered on the brink of collapse amid rampant infighting, was questioned by his critics…”.
Titus also took a potshot at former Prime Minister Thomas for taking action, which resulted in his dismissal as Editor of the Barbados-owned newspaper known as the Grenada Advocate.
He said the action on the part of Thomas had done only one thing and that is to undermine the ex-Prime Minister’s own legacy as a supporter of a free and independent media, something which he went to jail for under the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution of late Marxist leader, Maurice Bishop.
Titus told the media meeting: “I was the editor of the Grenada Advocate who started the reports of early infighting within the Thomas government as well as Thomas’ own move to head into the next election without some of his own MP’s. Thomas’ administration bullied the owners of my newspaper, the Barbados Advocate into dismissing me as Editor.
“That was about a year ago. My vindication came when all that was written about in my article unfolded as infighting reached a high in the Thomas government which collapsed as it plummeted into a general election it lost last February”, he said.
Titus along with reporter at The New Today newspaper, Cherrian Blackman-Stephen were the two representatives from Grenada attending the
Curacao get-together from May 3-6.
The keynote address at the session, “Safety of journalists and Criminal Defamation” was delivered by Alison Bethel McKenzie, Executive Director of the International Press Institute.
She spoke of the ongoing campaign against criminal defamation laws, inherited from European colonial powers, still remaining in 16 independent Caribbean territories with the exception of Grenada.
“Criminal defamation and seditious libel laws are threats to journalists and their ability to do their work,” McKenzie stated, as she noted that in almost all cases, such laws carry a prison sentence of at least one year”.
She reported that some progress has been made in repealing such laws with Grenada leading the way to become the first Caribbean country to repeal criminal defamation in July.
Trinidad & Tobago’s Parliament is now considering repealing this legislation.
Jamaica’s parliament tabled a proposal in March to repeal criminal defamation and this is also under consideration in Antigua and Barbuda.
Director of the Caribbean Institute for Media and Communication, University of West Indies, Professor Hopeton Dunn dealing with the safety of journalists, issued a call for media owners and managers to prepare for the “very real threats” to the safety of reporters and called for the establishment of a personal injury insurance and appropriate attire for journalists in crisis situations.
President of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), Wesley Gibbins believes that while journalists in the Caribbean are not killed as compared to fatalities in international countries, most abuses of journalists and media workers remain uninvestigated and unpunished which leads to impunity that perpetrates the cycle of violence against journalists.
The Caribbean Media Summit was organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Curacao National Commission for UNESCO, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) and the Curacao Media Organisation.