Saturday, February 17, 2018

Taking a stand – media and politics


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THE sudden dismissal of a well-known Grenadian journalist, the editor of a weekly newspaper in Grenada, has sparked controversies over the threat to press freedom in that Eastern Caribbean island famous for its spices .

Credit this development to perhaps pre-general election tension within Grenada's governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) or related uneasiness on the part of the Barbadian-owned Grenada Advocate newspaper.

But a dangerous precedent seems to have been set in the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of the paper's editor, Rawle Titus, a newsman with some 25 years experience in broadcast, print and wire service journalism before his five-year stint with the weekly Grenada Advocate that dramatically ended late last month.

At the core of the problem was a demand by the management of the Barbados Advocate company, which publishes and markets the Grenada Advocate, for publication of an apology for reported errors in a news story that had provoked the ire of the government and the ruling NDC of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas.

Any journalist who takes his or her professional integrity seriously can hardly be expected to write an "apology" or "retraction" of a news article that he had earlier approved as the newspaper's editor.

Not surprisingly, therefore, while Prime Minister Thomas' office was insisting on either an apology or retraction, the General Manager of Advocate Publishers (2000) Inc — publishers of both the Barbados and Grenada Advocate newspapers—sent a crucial email message to Titus.

That email of last March 12, from General Manager Sandra Clarke, reminded Titus not only had he failed to publish an apology or correction but that he had stated, "there is nothing to apologise for and, therefore, no apology would be written or printed".

In the light of this, Clarke told Titus, "we have no other option but to terminate your services… effective March 30, 2012…"

If this firm decision could be credited to ownership/publishers' rights of a media enterprise — and some will defend this argument — a question of related relevance is, when do the rights and professional integrity of the journalist end, or are they subsumed in the resolution of a conflict of interest between government and media?

Recently I telephoned Ms Clarke for a comment on the controversy surrounding the dismissal of the journalist but she was quick to say, "no comment".

Earlier, I had asked PM Thomas' press secretary, Richard Simon, whether the Grenada government felt it had any blame to accept in the dismissal of Titus. He said no, and added that an apology or retraction was only demanded because of "the inaccuracies" in the article.

I further inquired whether, given his own involvement in media communication, he would expect the editor of a newspaper to apologise for, or retract reported inaccuracies in an article that he had approved.

At that point Simon said he had to "take another call" with the promise to talk later. For my part, I had a deadline to meet for today's column and I am hoping that by later today there would be a response from Mr Thomas.

The Media Workers Association of Grenada (MWAG), of which, incidentally, Mr Titus is president, has already gone public with a press statement warning against what it called "intimidation tactics" by the Thomas administration. The association claimed the "Titus Affair" was only the most recent example of press freedom being endangered in the country.

The controversial news article had focused on what it reported as the ruling NDC going into new general elections later this year "as a divided party…"

It referenced two examples of the Prime Minister initiating and being involved in two "caucuses" for the year from which he omitted some well known government parliamentarians with names mentioned. The second caucus, the article further reported, "comes ahead of a potentially volatile General Council meeting of the party on March 26…."

Subsequent developments are now part of the controversies relating to internal conflicts within the governing NDC, and the dismissal of a newspaper editor who chose to put personal integrity above genuflecting to management's demand for either a public apology or retraction!

Stay tuned to this case when a veteran Grenadian journalist chose dismissal; rather than to the demands of a government and dictates of his employer.

In the meanwhile, I wish to record how much I enjoyed reading last Sunday Express column by my colleague, Lennox Grant, in which he captured admirably, in his inimitable style, the qualities of the late Roy Boyke in his reflection headlined "A media glamour boy is gone".

• Rickey Singh is a

senior journalist