When Justice Minister Philip La Corbiniere took to the airwaves two months ago to threaten the local media, the calculated effect was immediate: wall-to-wall silence.
All of a sudden the most widely discussed issue in the months leading up to the 2011 elections had lost its spice; the Privy Council’s often cited “chilling effect on freedom of expression” had been made manifest.
It was as if Caribbean News Now had never featured on the internet an alleged behind-the-scenes account of Richard Frederick’s visa revocation, replete with titillating trimmings, some disturbingly sexual.
The usually hibernating Justice Ministry’s head honcho had spoken and it seemed no one had the courage openly to acknowledge the emperor in his own mind was stark naked—even as he pompously addressed the world via government-controlled RSL and the rest of our suicidally accommodating media, not forgetting YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and so on.
Our spineless informers of the people preferred unquestioningly to believe our poor, sensitive and insult-tolerant Just Us minister, when he claimed he truly had been unfairly demeaned in his personal and professional capacities, was fully clothed in the finest threads of truth, honesty, sincerity and infallibility.
Moreover, that he fully deserved his pound of bleeding flesh from Timothy Poleon’s unprotected posterior.
Others, all of them from the Red Zone, all of them programmed to see only one color in the rainbow, imagined providence had presented them yet another too-good-to-be-missed opportunity to damn.
In the blink of an eye they had jumped aboard the Just Us minister’s bandwagon to cosy up to their complaining crybaby.
Long forgotten were the lessons from the earlier “media terrorist” episode that had dropped baskets of rotten eggs on their leader’s previously inviting face, to the extent that he had quickly sought to rescue his media-friendly image. Alas, the hurriedly convened GIS press conference had served further to confirm the government’s attitude toward the maligned Poleon, in particular, and the media in general.
So blinded by prejudice and powerless power were the crybaby band-wagoners, they could not see the grave they set out more recently to dig for the host of Newsspin was their own.
Or that whatever small victory they might achieve from embarrassing Poleon would be pyrrhic.
While Caribbean News Now continued almost daily to pour out fresh versions of the internet story that according to his tormentors Poleon had “made his own,” thinking people at home and elsewhere were wondering why the declared affronted parties had not requested retractions from the original publishers of the victimization, visas and vice story.
Why had they chosen instead to demand apologies and compensating big money only from the Labour Party’s usual target and a poor, deprived and vulnerable wheelchair-confined caller to his Newsspin show?
Meanwhile, something of a miracle was quietly underway. The media, disunited as they had been prior to the Poleon controversy, were
slowly beginning to understand the writing on the wall: today Poleon, tomorrow whom?
It didn’t help that immeasurably bitter individuals who had never had any useful relationship with the press, save as consumers of what had been placed before them by real reporters, were now imagining themselves monarchs of all they survey, at the expense of the private and government-controlled media, and taxpayers.
Their departed hero Hugo Chavez had earned a particular reputation in his time for pushing off the airwaves and Venezuelan newsstands, by whatever limitless means at his disposal, all media not under his direct command.
Even as I write, our notoriously copycat government, encouraged by paranoid and powerfully powerless, tax-funded hacks, is about to introduce before parliament a so-called Broadcasting Act, considered by private and public press personnel a primed Weapon of Media Destruction.
Lest we forget, this is the same government—headed by a certified expert in Constitutional Law and including a bunch of legal kilibwis in fake eagle raiments—that had sought to place on our statute books, the no-bail law (stubbornly cited by then A-G, now Justice Mario Michel when every political effort was made to have Lorne Theophilus confined behind bars, with voluble support from the host of Straight Up).
The same government had vigorously sought to deny magistrates discretionary authority in relation to fines and prison terms.
That same government had sought to deny resident Saint Lucians privileges afforded only visiting non-nationals!
To return to the earlier hinted at miracle: While Timothy Poleon, surrounded on all sides by Red Zoners with pitchforks, and forced to read three or four times weekly a terribly scripted apology to unnamed offended individuals, saying enough was damn well enough were concerned publishers, reporters, broadcasters and other media personnel now convinced something had to be done in the interests of survival.
So it was that I was invited, with lawyer and former broadcaster Winston Hinkson, to discuss the relationship between puffed-up state officials and the media—and what could be done about it.
I did not anticipate the exhalations of long-bottled-up disgust, anger and frustration that filled the room moments after the “seminar” got underway.
For almost an hour the discussion centered on Privy Council and US Supreme Court decisions relating to the rights of the press, its responsibilities to consumers, and so on. The talk focused particularly on the law pertaining to press criticism of public officials and election candidates.
Cited were such landmark cases as Hector vs the Attorney General of Antigua Barbuda, Reynolds vs The Times, among others. No surprise the “Timothy Poleon Situation” dominated the question-and-answer session, despite that the broadcaster was absent.
I chose to revisit my own legal battles over the years with politicians who would’ve preferred, contrary to Thomas Jefferson, that the press disappear altogether and leave rogue governments free to do as they please, when they please, in total secrecy.
I recalled the much-missed Saint Lucian Privy Councilor Sir Vincent Floissac, alas deceased. Often, he had reminded local journalists that the law was very
much on their side, if only they would familiarize themselves with it.
Before the meeting concluded, attendees undertook to have similar get-togethers on a regular basis, for several reasons, the main one being to develop a united front including home-based and overseas colleagues, against those with an
abiding, self-serving interest in the disappearance of all media not under governmental control!