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Power of the Press

Stuart: A Free Media has to be responsible

The media and Government have vital roles in society, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart told the Inter-American Press Association mid-year conference and, in fact, need each other.

Addressing the meeting yesterday, Stuart studiously avoided mention of any controversial encounters his administration has had with local media as he delivered remarks to the most powerful media organization in the Americas that just last month called on the Barbados authorities to drop charges against Nation newspaper journalist Sanka Price, editor-in-chief Roy Morris and publisher Vivian-Anne Gittens.

The trio had been charged with allowing an indecent photo to be published, after a photo of two schoolchildren seemingly having sex was published.

With Gittens seated at the head table, Stuart spoke of a need for a harmonious relationship between Government and media.

“The existence of a healthy relationship between the two sides, based on mutual trust and respect, is therefore an indispensible prerequisite to the achievement of the democratic ideal to which both Government and the Press aspire,” he said.

“Both the Press and the Government function, as it were, in the same market and for the same reason. Both seek to influence public opinion. The quality of public opinion, in its turn, determines significantly both the content and the extent of democratic practice in any society.”

He pointed out that based in the island’s constitution there is an expectation of the rule of law in Barbados as distinct from the rule of the gun or of money.

“We should expect to find too, the practice of certain freedoms and the entitlement to certain protections. I speak of the freedom
of conscience, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement.”

Also included in these expectations, he noted were “protection of the right to life; of the right to personal liberty; protection from slavery and forced labour; and protection from inhuman treatment”.

He said that an essential component to make these freedoms complete was freedom of expression.

“It is perhaps also the fear of having this freedom abridged that helps explain the caution the Press worldwide evinces in its relationship with governments,” Stuart said, and added: “After all, it is governments with their access to the apparatus of coercion which the state provides that can either enlarge or abridge freedoms.”

The Prime Minister went on to tell delegates of this organization of media owners in the Americas that the power of the Press, however, was not to be underestimated. By way of example he spoke of “the clever use of accurate or inaccurate information to foment social restlessness, which can be equally dangerous in its results . . . . With the support of freedom of expression, a responsible Press can contribute much to the protection and promotion of democracy.

“An irresponsible Press can, however, undermine and weaken that democracy.”

Stuart struck a philosophical chord throughout his presentation, venturing closest to a possible situation at home when he said: “In a tourist economy, the repeated sensational presentation of items of information deemed ‘true’ can end up creating and cementing an unattractive image of the country in the eyes of the beholder.”

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