By Political Correspondent
If there was a champion for press freedom between 2010 and 2013 it was the then President of the Media Workers’ Association of Grenada (MWAG), Rawle Titus.
Following his dismissal as Editor of the Grenada Advocate in 2010 for publishing an unsubstantiated story involving the former Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas and others, the man took his case around the world. He lambasted the then Prime Minister and accused him of initiating his dismissal, and striking fear in the minds of journalists.
He did all of that without respecting the Association’s constitution, requiring quarterly meetings of the membership; nevertheless, Editor/Owner of Caribnews, Hamlet Mark featured Titus’ self serving weekly stories/press releases most prominently in his daily radio news beamed across the Caribbean and on his social network.
Titus gave up the presidency following the New National Party (NNP) clean sweep of the February 19 General Election and is now Director of the Government Information Service. Hamlet Mark has an equally big paying job with big allowances for traveling and so forth being the Senior Adviser on Communications in the Prime Minister’s office.
It is said that at the Media Workers Election held at the Presentation Brothers College, both Titus and Hamlet Mark promised to help guide the new executive. Interesting is that three of the six people elected were attending their first meeting of the association and paid the five dollar membership fee when it was time for the election.
So that tells the story about the current status of the Media Workers Association of Grenada. Some people have deliberately disabled the organisation in return for self gratification. Clearly MWAG is being used conveniently and to betray the profession.
The evidence is there! MWAG is silent! It has said absolutely nothing about the Electronic Crimes Bill of which several sections have serious implications for press freedom.
The current President who came from a media entity that was run by Dr. Mitchell and NNP prior to 2008 is as timid as one can get.
The goodly lady made a rather interesting statement that the bill is not really for journalists but for a few people who would want to abuse the social network to attack persons. Poor lady.
The new MWAG President literally went into hiding and probably under the bed when others in the international community started to dismantle her poorly thought out remarks.
Following the collapse of the Peoples’ Revolutionary Government (PRG) in 1983 and the revival of the Press Association now the Media Association in 1985, this is the first time that an issue of national, regional and international interest has been completely ignored by the leadership of the association and major media houses – GBN, Channel Six, MTV and several of the print media.
Not a single program with media practitioners to discuss the sections of the Bill relevant to the press. Not much is expected of MTV, but GBN and Cable are owned by professional companies and ought not to allow themselves to be dictated to by big salary government stooges. It may serve them well today but tomorrow there are consequences.
Former Presidents of MWAG – Leslie Pierre of the Voice, George Worme,Ray Roberts, Wayne Modeste of New Today, Carla Briggs formerly of the Informer, Mike Bascombe, and Lew Smith all endeavored to call meetings of the general membership during their reign when issues affected the press to discuss the impact on the profession.
We often had different views and beliefs but were professional enough to facilitate a discussion and make recommendations.
The new President of MWAG has apparently gone on a long holiday. Where is the President? Why is the President so silent on the bill?
No doubt about it, the Electronic Crime Bill, soon to be law, has the potential to impact on media workers.
Most embarrassing, the Minister of Information representing the interest of the media in the Senate, indicating he met with the association and others and they had no problem with the Bill.
President Sherry Ann Noel of Cable Vision, our second female president, has failed the profession. She does not have any legitimate reasons for not calling a general meeting. She is a practicing journalist for two decades and is intelligent enough not to allow her passion for any group to supersede her profession and that of her colleagues.
When the same NNP government came with media policy in the 90s we in the media were deeply concerned.
When former President, Wayne Modeste called meetings and involved the likes of attorney-at-law Lloyd Noel and Ruggles Ferguson and the Association of Caribbean Media Workers – they all offered advice and recommendations which were submitted to Prime Minister Keith Mitchell.
Under Carla Briggs Presidency, the editor of the now defunct GRENADA TODAY newspaper, George Worme was arrested and charged for criminal libel by the police at the behest of Hugh Wildman and Dr. Mitchell – and again we met as a body and voted on a statement and course of action.
The International Press Institute, one of the world’s most respected institutions expressed concern about the Bill and that was enough for the local association to engage its members.
An Associated Press feature on the Crime Bill says, “Offend someone on Facebook – go to jail in Grenada. Another sentence says, “ Being mean online could cost you $37K (EC$111.000) or three years behind bars”. Indeed frightening!
The electronic crime bill law has severe penalties for offenders! On summary conviction one can be subjected to fines of large sums of money up to three hundred thousand dollars plus time in jail.
So people like Helen Grenade, a one-time supporter of Prime Minister Mitchell should better be careful what she continues to write about the man from New York.
If Helen comes to Grenada and Dr. Mitchell makes a complaint to someone like Sergaent Carl Caton, what will happen to Helen? Will Carl proceed to arrest Helen and take the matter to court for hearing before a judge?
For those of us who are media workers and citizens in general – the section of the BILL which touches on – causing annoyance and inconvenience to someone could land you in Jail on summary conviction.
According to the Associate Press, the Bill, the first of its kind in the Caribbean, complaints about offensive comments would be filed with the police and a judge would then decide if the message was offensive.
Finally, we cannot trust the Police Force since Commissioner James has been sending the wrong signals to many in our midst. This gentleman who was brought back from retirement has taken certain actions which leave me to conclude that he will do whatever he is told to do.
Take for example – two senior officers sent on vacation through verbal instructions by Mr. James himself. None of the officers have letter from the Public Service Commission (PSC) to send them on leave on the date given by the Commissioner.
Secondly, we have seen the return of some undesirables within the force. The latest being persons who were sent home by previous commissioners for alleged wrong-doing.
The decent elements within the police force are talking about the return in their midst of some of those who were sent packing for all sorts of alleged wrong-doing including thiefing of exhibits.
Mr. James is even trying to pull the wool over the eyes of us with a charade of an investigation into allegations about sexual impropriety against senior police officers including one that involves an alleged rape of a resigned former Woman Police Constable.
The Media workers in the country should have argued strongly against criminalising those sections of the electronic Law which deal with annoyance and inconvenience to someone – both are subjective.
The former Senator from St. Vincent who appeared on Sunday’s with George Grant has put many of us to shame including the lawyers who should be the guardians to make sure that bad laws are stuck out at the first instance.