The Barbadian blogosphere is an uproar following the arrest of two mainstream media journalists – a move that bloggers are interpreting as an assault on press freedom.
The popular and outspoken Barbados Free Press says that the arrests were in retaliation for “reporting on a police officer who is charged with dealing drugs” and reminds its readers of two previous incidents “where police roughed up reporters and destroyed their notes, photos and videos.” While it notes that “Commissioner Dottin has once again promised to have some sort of investigation or inquiry into the incident” BFP is cynical about anything actually coming of it:
There never is any investigation or explanation by Dottin or the Royal Barbados Police Force because the police are above the law in Barbados. There is no civilian oversight of police officers in Barbados. There is no working complaints board and no independent agency to investigate police wrongdoing. If citizens want to charge a police officer with an offense, that presents another whole layer of impossible.
Calling for the resignation of the Commissioner of Police, Barbados Free Press follows up its first post by republishing a message from Barbados journalist Amanda Lynch-Foster that is tantamount to a call to action:
I’m sure most of us are feeling the same way today – pissed off and frustrated with the disrespect that journalists are getting. This is the third time this has happened in the last year and a half or so and I am not really happy with the responses. The Commissioner keeps saying he will investigate – we have heard that before. Last year, the former AG said we had no right on the hospital premises. Some members of the public even say we deserve it. It feels like there is a creeping disrespect for journalism and it’s coming from all sides.
So what are we going to do about it?
Barbados Underground also posts Lynch-Foster's message, along with images of what it calls “Police Heavy Hand”.
Boyce Voice (usually an entertainment-focused blog), finds himself moved to comment on the situation:
As a Barbadian, I am ashamed and appalled at the actions of the Royal Barbados Police Force as it relates to the imprisonment and subsequent charging of reporters Cherie Pitt and Jimmy Gittens for attempting to execute their journalistic duties yesterday.
It sickens my ass when I look in today’s newspaper and see a picture of a big burly male Police Officer shoving female reporter Cherie Pitt for attempting to take a picture of a man that has been accused for being a drug dealer.
What message is being sent by the Police who are supposed to be protecting our women from domestic violence?
Is the legal authority of the Royal Barbados Police Force to be used to protect officers accused of drug activity?
I am appalled that the Police should behave in such a disgusting and disreputable manner and then have the audacity to charge Jimmy and Cherie for obstructing justice. It should be the police who should be charged for obstructing the journalists and assaulting Cherie Pitt.
It sickens me when I read of the limp and historically proven impotent words of Police Commissioner Darwin Dottin promising a full investigation into the matter.
The question is who guards the guards?
This incident more than ever provides an example of the need to have an external authority to investigate and have the power to take action against Police officers who abuse their legal authority.
He goes on to liken the police action to “Gestapo tactics”:
It is a proven fact that oppression of a society usually starts with intimidation of the press then it’s only a matter of time before they come for you…
And in a comprehensive post that links to a series of blogger reactions, The Bajan Dream Project puts in his two cents’ worth:
It is textbook in its simplicity: a police officer sworn ‘to serve and protect’ makes his way to a court appearance charged with possession and trafficking of cocaine, while journalists arrive to take photos for the press. Simple? Not in Barbados. For, in Barbados, this ‘oasis of calm in an otherwise troubled world’, two journalists now await trial after a brutish arrest in their line of duty[¹]. Freedom of the press, it seems, does not include covering crooked police. Welcome to Barbados, a democracy with caveats.