COMMENTARY: Press freedom at great risk in Saint Lucia

By Melanius Alphonse

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Melanius Alphonse

Aggressive affectation for the rule of law is how I would have liked to encapsulate an advisory from the office of the director of public prosecutions via the high command of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) with regard to local media exercising caution in interviewing and displaying the images of potential witnesses and the coverage of ongoing police investigations.

But conventional wisdom dictates this is only part of the explanation to secure survival, toughness, and to curb the mental cultivation of the siege associated with the judicial system.

Defining that agenda has authorities referring to contempt of court under section 380 (1) (g) “to publish any matter which is intended to or is likely to prejudice the fair trial or conduct of criminal proceedings and (h) to publish any matters which prejudges issues which are to be tried or are being tried by the court”.

This tough front has its complexity as it seeks to control the flow of information to silence criticism – against the very fabric of democracy.

The dramatic increase in electronic surveillance, the moral outcry for justice in Saint Lucia’s slow judiciary application is damaging the country’s standing overall, in addition to the IMPACS report, Lambirds, the Cuban visa mystery and other unfavourable international publications on Saint Lucia.

The government of Saint Lucia (the executive, legislature and the judiciary) should focus on less restrictive laws, unresponsive bureaucracy and regulatory agencies that double down on a path towards advancement.

In the present crisis, admittedly or not, policymakers should be tempted and focus on resolution for the future rather than curtailed progress with the nuisance of lawsuits and seemingly restrictive measures of contempt of court.

For that reason, it would be for the good of all to get on with the job of reforming the judiciary, thus placing confidence in the most important aspect of democracy – law and order – thereby stabilizing the substance of healthy government structures to complement the rights and freedom of people in a democratic society.

A healthy democracy is often judged by the freedom and tenacity of its press corps, contributing as a well-established partner in the public structure. There in, journalists work to uncover truths which would otherwise lie hidden, expose corruption and other issues of public importance.

Inevitably, getting the facts right and courageous decisions about a story is routine in newsrooms and on editors’ desks to make despite government and bureaucratic exasperation.

So imagine trying to get permission from policymakers for the press to publish reports on crime and malfeasance, legitimate public concerns, daily news, opinion and letters to the editor without pulling of punches.

The existence of such controls surfaces when you have a corrupt government that seeks to keep journalists in check and suppress dissenting views, to permit only their version of the truth in a bid to establish control over the media market, irrespective of the fact that a free and dynamic press helps ensure transparency, asks the right questions of government, business and commerce, and reports relevant facts even at personal risk to reveal the truth.

It is by now a common indicator that a free and dynamic press is an equitable social partner of the public structure with a duty to inform the public and that a free and dynamic press is a cornerstone of democracy, likewise, a credible and independent judiciary.

Notably, Myanmar’s government accused a newspaper of contempt of court:

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s Information Ministry has filed a contempt of court complaint against the publisher and 16 editorial employees of a newspaper it is already suing for defamation, an action critics charge is an attempt at intimidation ahead of elections set for later this year.

Authoritarian regimes have many unwise laws limiting freedom of expression and terrible overall growth and development records. In view of that it is unwise to withhold the truth, use scare tactics, prolong secret discord and expect political stability and economic growth.

In fact, Saint Lucia is capable of achieving amazing results. But that cannot happen on a social-economic level when people are demoralized with regulations and policies not intended to help forge a path forward and subdued by their elected government’s convenient support for laws and practices that lack transparency and accuracy.

Therefore, the reference of contempt of court and method of delivery are benchmarks of stiff approaches that usually authorize the use of brute force. Thus further compounding much needed improvement in technical proficiency, forensic analysis, advance investigative techniques, legal research and the courage to challenge and change the status quo.

More needs to be done to incorporate equal and productive relationship with counterparts to reap the benefits of a free press, the rule of law, and to take advantage of appropriate socio-economic trends towards healthy public structures.

To disengage the press is to dismantle democracy, encourage corruption and nepotism in the continuance of societal inequality and fundamental rights and freedom.

Evidently, progressive settlement in a well-functioning physical and mental transition with cutting edge thinking is much desirable to transition weak innovations and forge a new path forward that reinvents decision making paralysis.

What might be more is to bear in mind that it is misguided to fiddle adversely with fundamental rights and freedoms without creating an involuntary penalty that culminates in a democratic awakening.

Reference: Media Association president concerned about advisory from DPP and the Police

Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) www.lpmstlucia.com critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at [email protected]  

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