As another regional journalist pays the price for standing by his story, bloggers are wondering about the state of press freedom in the Caribbean. Rawle Titus -veteran journalist and president of the Media Workers Association of Grenada since 2008- was dismissed from his post as editor of the Grenada Advocate after he refused to retract or apologize for a front-page story in the March 9th edition of the newspaper headlined “Prime Minister Makes Fresh Moves.” (The Grenada Advocate is owned and published by the Advocate Publishers (2000) Inc, based in Fontabelle, St. Michael, Barbados.)
According to the story, leader of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Prime Minister of Grenada, Tillman Thomas, held a caucus where candidates for the upcoming elections were selected, without informing senior members of the now fractious party. Government press secretary (and former journalist) Richard Simon wrote to the management in Barbados twice, seeking a retraction for what were deemed to be inaccuracies. After the 2nd letter, Titus was dismissed by General Manager Sandra Clarke, effective March 30th, 2012.
According to the MWAG, the Advocate was pressured into firing Titus and added:
We have growing concerns about increasing incidents that will suggest that those guarantees are coming under attack. This latest incident follows a series of other developments we have been monitoring in the past.
On Sunday, April 1st, Titus, Simon and Information Minister Glen Noel were interviewed on the current affairs radio program “Sundays With George Grant” (starting at the 84:00 minute mark.)
On Monday, April 2nd, Titus’ staged a one-man protest in front of the Office of the Prime Minister at the Botanical Gardens, St. Georges. The text and video of Titus’ full statement were posted on the blog of Nicole Best, the General Secretary of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (which also released a statement). After reading the statement, Titus explained some of his on the concerns raised and answered some questions.
Hamlet Mark, a friend of both Titus and Richard Simon, shared some thoughts on his own blog :
It is one thing for anyone to point out inaccuracies, which any responsible journalist must correct if it is found beyond doubt to be such.
But since when do you demand ‘an apology and retraction’ in two letters about some perceived ‘inaccuracy’, without it being seen as undue pressure when it comes from an office as powerful as the Prime Minister’s?
And when the reporter says he is satisfied with his information – after cross checking it again – you still insist on an apology – to the point where he had to standup not just for his dignity but his manhood – so that a frightened Barbadian team – unschooled in Grenadian political realities – got cold feet and sent a man home they concede that they never had to question his professionalism before.
If the letters from the Prime Minister’s office were not meant to be used as undue pressure – why the demand for an ‘apology’ – if you said it was just some inaccuracies?
And if the reporter decided to stand by his story, isn't the normal thing in that circumstance to release your version of events – and let the public decide?
On March 27th, The Government of Grenada released a statement denying responsibility for Titus’ firing:
Neither the Prime Minister nor his office, sought directly or indirectly, the termination of Mr. Titus, and is unaware of the reason or reasons for his termination by the newspaper’s management. The Grenada government has never, over the past three years, attempted to pressure or intimidate any business or media house to ‘tow the government’s line’ or to influence the dismissal of any journalist, as previous administrations have done.
Hamlet Mark offered some comments on the statement from the Prime Minister’s office:
It was a timely and useful assurance, and everyone should take the administration at its word, without ever letting their guards down.
While the statement went on to give the assurance, it tainted it with – well – at least one inaccuracy; that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) never asked for ‘an apology nor retraction.’
Having seen the e-mail sent to ‘Advocate’; and having determined it is authentic; then the claim in the press release that it did not happen is bogus.
A colleague of mine calls it a blatant lie. But I’ll be kind. It is just an innocent inaccuracy.
While as Prime Minister, the buck will always have to stop with Tillman Thomas, I have this sneaky feeling that his soldiers let him down on this issue.
Whatever you may think about the man – and having seen him operate up close and personal through the years – I believe that he genuinely believes in the issue of freedom of the media, almost to a fault.
He is a man of considerable faults, but some admirable strengths as well – and I firmly believe on that issue – this is one of his strengths.
Richard will have to correct me, if it’s an “inaccuracy” (and unless someone in the PMO is trying to set me up too), that the whole hullabaloo about the Advocate report was not an idea of the PM.
Reporters Without Borders released a statement calling for Titus to be reinstated and also made reference to the liquidation of the Grenada Today Weekly, which was forced to shutdown after the owners were unable to pay damages to former Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell after he successfully sued them.