BARBADOS The boast of having a healthy relationship with successive Governments received a crude interruption in August when a call to one of the daily newspapers, from the personal advisor of the Prime Minister (Hartley Henry) threatened the freedom of press. On August 22, the PM’s adviser telephoned the editor of the paper’s Sunday Edition and demanded prominent display of a poll which had been done on the government’s popularity. The advisor threatened that if the editor did not display the story as he determined appropriate, he would embarrass and destroy her reputation. This interview came as a shock to the paper because the Barbados media invariably have, in the past, been proud to report healthy relationships with governments, political parties, the police and business – despite the tensions and disagreements that would arise from time to time. The paper protested by publishing a front page comment the following day. It is worthy of note that at the end of 2008, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), which forms the Government of the day, pulled its party advertising and its weekly column from the Nation. No clear explanation has been given and there is therefore the perception that The Nation is not regarded as being “ in their corner”. Another instance which made journalists uneasy, especially non-Barbadian journalists, was a warning which came directly from the Prime Minister, in August. While addressing the annual conference of his party, the Prime Minister, warned commentators/writers who had criticized his immigration policy: He said: "Barbados is a democracy. We invite and encourage criticism, debate and discussion on topical issues…. "[However] . . . as Prime Minister of this country I have had as much as I am willing to take as far as the unfair and unwarranted maligning of Barbados and Barbadians by those to whom we have extended a welcoming hand is concerned. There is precedence for dealing with such ingratitude. I am saying today 'enough is enough'!" One commentator in particular, who is non-Barbadian, but who has been residing in the country for more than 20 years, took issue with the Prime Minister’s statement; he considered the Prime Minister’s comments a veiled threat to him and others who were not Barbadian, but who had spoken out in the media. Journalists have regrouped and relaunched the Barbados Association of Journalists (BAJ). Although they do not see themselves as a pressure group, its president says the association would be vigilant to deal with issues which could hamper journalists´works. The re-emergence of the BAJ follows two clashes with the Police in 2007 and 2008, where journalists were barred from taking photographs . Those issues were resolved earlier this year when members of the media met the top brass of the police force and agreed to a policy on how the two entities would work together more effectively. GUYANA The use of state advertising to punish and reward media has continued to be a feature of the Government’s treatment of the media. President Bharrat Jagdeo has also continued to launch attacks against media companies and reporters creating conditions which could lead to self-censorship and the curbing of media freedoms. In recent days, in what could be a significant development, President Jagdeo said it will be shortly introducing Access to Information legislation and legislation for a National Broadcast Authority. Since 2007, the use of state advertising as a weapon against the media has stood out as one of the most egregious violations of press freedom by the Guyana Government. After arbitrarily withdrawing advertising from Stabroek News for 17 months, the Guyana Government resumed the placement of advertisements with the newspaper in April, 2008. No explanation was provided for the resumption. Trends so far this year show that the government has used advertising to both punish and reward media. When it ceased advertising in Stabroek News in November 2006, the government’s explanation was that it was then only advertising in one state-owned newspaper and the highest circulating private paper which it arbitrarily named as the Kaieteur News. This prevailed for 17 months until April, 2008. There was, however, an interesting development in May, 2009. The government began advertising in a third private newspaper, the Guyana Times, one which was launched in June 2008. Moreover, in September 2009, the Guyana Times received more advertisements than the Kaieteur News which had been the government’s previously declared highest circulating newspaper. This development came at a time when there had been tension between the government and the Kaieteur News over disputed reports in the newspaper. At the end of February 2009, CNS Channel Six said it received a call from a very senior government official who instructed that a programme dealing with the crisis engulfing Clico (Guyana) not be rebroadcast. Channel Six then decided to review the programme to determine if any of the content was exceptionable. A Capitol News television reporter Gordon Moseley was banned by President Jagdeo from attending press conferences at the Office of the President or State House. President Jagdeo was upset at the tone of a letter written by Mr Moseley to the media defending his reportage on a summit at which President Jagdeo was present. The President called on Mr Moseley to apologise over the letter which the reporter said he would not do as he was responding to the President’s criticism of his reportage. In March 2009, President Jagdeo continued a pattern of attacks on the media. In his latest salvo he accused some media houses of being the “new opposition”. Such language is clearly intended to politicize the legitimate work that the media has been doing and pressure them into moderating criticism. On August 28, 2009, at a Private Sector Commission dinner, President Jagdeo again attacked several media companies for their front page reporting of crime. He contended that crime was blown out of proportion and gave the country a bad image. He then told the assembled businessmen that they contribute to this problem by advertising in the offending media. This statement was perceived by the media companies and the Guyana Press Association as an attempt by the President to direct the business community not to advertise with certain media companies. The Government maintains a radio monopoly that it inherited from the previous government in 1992. Only one radio station exists at the moment even though this government had promised 17 years ago to begin the liberalization process. New broadcasting legislation had been promised a long time ago to regulate the issuing and renewal of licences and to monitor broadcast standards but nothing has been done. In the first week of October, 2009, a government spokesman said that a bill for a new broadcast authority would be tabled in Parliament in the upcoming session. If this materializes, it would be a significant development in the media landscape and particularly in the broadcast sector. The announcement comes at a time that the Canadian Government has been assisting the media to move towards the creation of a media owners association and a self-regulating code of conduct. It also comes against the backdrop of a ruling by the Chief Justice that the agency entrusted with dealing with applications for radio licences must process them in reasonable time. There is no Freedom of Information Act. Access to government ministers is relatively easy although obtaining official information and data from ministries and government departments is very difficult. A Freedom of Information bill drafted by an opposition member of Parliament has been before two parliaments without the government agreeing to support it. In April, 2009, President Jagdeo told a press conference in Trinidad and Tobago that he would table FOI legislation within two months. This deadline passed without a bill being presented. In the first week of October, 2009, a government spokesman said that a FOI bill would be tabled at the next session of Parliament. There is a widely held view in the media that the libel law is antiquated and prevents robust reporting on public officials. What should clearly be permissible as fair comment on public officials has frequently led to lawsuits aimed at stifling further reportage. JAMAICA The PAJ protested the arrest and charging of Gleaner photojournalist, Ricardo Makyn earlier this year. The Police commissioner, investigated the matter on the request of the PAJ, and reported in a meeting with the association that the policeman's actions were unwarranted. The court subsequently acquitted Mr. Makyn of all charges. As a result of the incidente, the police and the PAJ are jointly developing rules of engagement. The PAJ regrets the slow pace of Parliament's review of Jamaica's libel and defamation laws. TRINIDAD There are two significant areas of concern regarding press freedom in Trinidad & Tobago at this time. In particular these are concerns over what is perceived to be the intention and the impact of the proposed Broadcast Code and the attempts, some more crude than others, at intimidation of media houses and journalists by the present administration. Various media organizations, including the One Caribbean Media (OCM), have been critical of the language of the proposed broadcast code, in so far as it impacts the provisions in the country's constitution which enshrine freedom of expression and freedom of the press. OCM’s basic position is that it has no issue with the establishment of a Broadcast Code, but it has pointed out that in a democracy, people generally have choice. Over and above this, in a digital world, that choice is amplified many times over. A major implication of this is that the consumer must become ‘media literate’. He or she must be capable of understanding what the media delivers and be able choose what is appropriate, without the intervention of the state in that process. Such a perspective supports an approach that favours self-regulation and co-regulation, rather than the impulse towards state intervention in the regulation process, which is what the code suggests. In such an environment there is great potential for inconsistent application of the rules and this could lead to unfair treatment of some broadcasters over others. The imposition of the kind of system suggested by the language of the proposed code may also open the process of regulation to political interference in the context of a Telecommunications Act in which power is already resident in the hands of the political directorate. Some of the provisions also conflict with the right to privacy and respect for family life and interests of the society as a whole. The Code speaks of the need to protect national security, the erradication of crime and the maintenance of ethical and cultural Standards. The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad & Tobago sees the code as providing some basis for managing the conflicts arising between these rights and interests. But the interventionists approach as highlighted above will not make for the best formula in doing so, hence the OCM’s preference for a system of self-regulation and co-regulation. Another major issue regarding the freedom of press is the contentious approach to a radio station by the Prime Minister. He was apparently offended by comments made by two disc jockeys during a news programme, concerning provisions outlined in the national budget at the end of September 2008. The comments at worst were inane and innocuous, poking fun at the announcements. The Prime Minister felt they were inappropriate and offensive. He went to the radio station himself; the upshot of which was, that the two djs were suspended leading to a national furor over the affair. The Prime Minister defended his action saying he was simple acting as any ordinary citizen who had a grievance against the media. By overwhelming sentiment, public opinion on the matter weighed against the Prime Minister, seeing his action as an act of intimidation to be frowned upon, resisted and denounced. Interestingly the only significant voice raised publicly in defence of the Prime Minister was that of the CEO of a radio corporation, which owes its existence to what has been decided in the courts of law as the government’s unfair granting of a radio licence of this company, ahead of other applicants. This CEO is also well known as a long-time high-level operative in the ruling party. Within this general context, individual media companies have suffered the withdrawal of government advertising because of the feelings of biased and unfair treatment and in reporting and commentary. Individual journalists also face regular haranguing from particular ministers claiming similar bias, and who take issue with lines of reporting on issues. The Prime Minister himself is on record as saying he could not identify a single media company in the country that is in support of the government’s development agenda.