‘The dark old days of Government control of news and information’

A former opposition Senator and veteran journalist has once again raised concerns over the role of a government senator in hosting an independent programme on the Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN).

Ray Roberts has now written to the parent company of GBN, the Trinidad-based One Caribbean Media Ltd on the use of Senator Katisha Williams to take over the programme from Lew Smith.

Following is the full text of Roberts’ letter:

Mrs. Dawn Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
One Caribbean Media Ltd.
Trinidad and Tobago

February 18th, 2019

Dear Mrs. Thomas,

Re Appointment of Government Senator to Host GBN’s “Beyond the Headlines”

I write you and your company in my capacity as a citizen of Grenada and a media practitioner to express my grave concern re a recent action by the Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN) – the employment of an active government member of parliament and potential candidate for the New National Party to host what is considered GBN’ s “flagship” current affairs program on television and radio in Grenada, “Beyond the Headlines”.

This current affairs program, “Beyond the Headlines”, previously hosted by veteran independent journalist Lew Smith, has distinguished itself over the years as a most credible, weekly in-depth, live forum featuring news makers from all sectors of Grenadian society.

However, the recent employment of a sitting member of Parliament who represents the party of the current administration undoubtedly begs the question about the fairness and balance in a political climate where there is no elected opposition in parliament. What Grenada is currently experiencing is the absolute dominance of one political party.

Let me make it very clear that I am not questioning the competence of the charming young hostess, Ms. Katisha Williams – known for her academic brilliance – who is also currently Grenada’s ambassador to the OECS. Instead, the focus of my concern about this appointment is ethics/judgment and the precedent now being set by One Caribbean Media via its subsidiary, the Grenada Broadcasting Network.

Ms. Williams is a highly enthusiastic political activist for her government and party, both in her Community and in the Senate. From all indications, it would appear that she is being groomed to be her party’s candidate for next elections – constitutionally due in 2023 – in the constituency of St. John.

Considering Ms. Williams’ affiliation and significant role in the ruling NNP party and government, is she the fit and proper person to be employed by the Grenada Broadcasting Network to anchor the nation’s number one current affairs program? And moreso, in a period in which one political party holds all the elected seats in the House of Representatives?

Can Ms. Williams be perceived as a fair and balanced hostess while being an integral part of the government? Given that she is an advocate of the ruling New National Party, will guests of her programme or an alternative perspective.

The New National Party Government already controls every state institution in the nation. Independent media, often considered the Fourth Estate is the one institution that could provide an opportunity to hold the state accountable.

GBN ought to consider the significant role, responsibility and the influence of the media in debating issues of social and economic importance and holding the state accountable.

Clearly, Grenada’s democracy is not being helped by Ms. Williams’ employment in GBN – a station that prides itself for fair and balanced coverage.

As a media practitioner, it is my considered opinion that Ms. Williams’ role as hostess of this important current affairs programme can be seen as directly contributing to national censorship and betrayal of the free press, an extension of the Government Information Service and the Party organ.

Permit me to suggest that the precedent now set by GBN, OCM’s subsidiary in Grenada, to employ a government Senator and political activist to host its flagship current affairs programme is in conflict with the following commitments of OCM’s Aspiration Statement:-

To take the leadership role in the development of the media industry by:-

– “……….Zealously guarding and advocating the Freedom of the Press/media.

– Observing and promoting the highest professional standards……..”

Two decades ago, the ownership of then Grenada Broadcasting Corporation by the forerunner of One Caribbean Media was hailed as a new era for the free media in Grenada. I was then President of the Media Workers Association of Grenada and, along with the late Leslie Pierre of the Grenadian Voice newspaper, welcomed the new Trinidad owners of GBN. Then Prime Minister Mitchell gave a commitment that his government wanted to see a professional and free media. Media icon Ken Gordon and the editors of the Nation Newspaper in Barbados and Gleaner in Jamaica all attended the handing-over, and praised Prime Minister Mitchell.

I am profoundly disappointed and let down by this action of an OCM subsidiary. I can only conclude that this action taken by GBN:-

*is not living up to the expectations that were promised twenty years ago by the new owners;

* is in conflict with the high standards to which OCM aspires;

*is in conflict with the conduct espoused by media organisations to which the OCM is affiliated such as the Inter American Press Association.

Since Independence, Grenada has had its fair share of media abuse. As a media practitioner who has seen it and felt it, I have no doubt that this action by the GBN would have far reaching and adverse consequences, being a significant step in returning Grenada to the dark old days of Government control of news and information.

Is this a legacy with which the OCM wishes to be associated?

Ray Roberts.

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