ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- Grenadian media workers, some of whom were threatened with lawsuits under the ousted New National Party (NNP) administration of former prime minister Keith Mitchell, allege that intimidation continues under the current government that was elected to office in 2008.
The issue of press freedom in Grenada came to the fore with the recent firing of Rawle Titus from the Grenada Advocate.
The Media Workers Association of Grenada (MWAG) claimed that staff in the office of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas “pressured” the Barbadian owners of the Advocate into firing Titus over a news item published on the front page of the March 9 edition of the weekly.
Richard Simon, press secretary to Prime Minister Thomas, contacted Titus and his Barbadian bosses, seeking an apology and a retraction of the item that said the Grenadian leader was holding constituency meetings without inviting or consulting some of his current MPs and cabinet ministers.
The paper said the prime minister, who has stated publicly that he could win re-election without many of his MPs, also has a preferred slate of candidates with whom he’d rather contest the upcoming polls.
In the aftermath of the complaints from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Titus was dismissed by the Advocate.
MWAG labeled the PMO’s action as interference with freedom of the press.
“The Media Workers Association of Grenada is calling on the Tillman Thomas administration to match its words with appropriate action in regards to media freedom in the country,” said MWAG, which is led by Titus as president.
“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.”
The Grenada government has denied infringing press freedom, but the Advocate issue and Titus’ firing have drawn regional and international attention.
The Association of Caribbean Media Workers said it was treating the issue “as a matter of considerable concern,” saying it believes “there is strong evidence to support the veracity of the story as published in the Grenada Advocate of March 9, 2012.”
Colin James, president of the Antigua & Barbuda Media Congress, said if the allegations against the Grenada government are true, he would be disappointed.
“Politicians should leave the media workers to perform their duties,” he said, adding also that “media managers and owners should not bow to political pressure.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also waded in on the controversy, saying it understood MWAG’s “alarm” over the matter.
“The evidence brought to our notice is solid enough to substantiate the claim that there was direct political interference in the functioning of a reputable independent newspaper,” RSF said in a statement.
“We urge Prime Minister Thomas to disown the pressure that his office brought to bear on the Grenada Advocate’s management and to reiterate the commitment to freedom of information that he expressed when he took office in 2008.”
RSF said that among countries of the Organization of East Caribbean States (OECS), to which Grenada belongs, it occasionally receives “cases of direct political pressure on journalists or their news media.”
But it said there has not been a case of the “gravity” of the latest matter involving Titus, “since the Grenada Today weekly had to be liquidated in 2009 as a result of a libel suit by former Prime Minister Keith Mitchell.”
However, journalist Linda Straker said a 2011 RSF media index survey “indicated areas of concern in Grenada, among which was the fear among media people to engage in doing certain stories as it relates to the government and the NDC party.”
“Many media workers, particularly reporters, have received calls questioning the angle taken for a story,” said Straker, who described herself as the RSF correspondent for the OECS and Barbados. Her comments were contained in written note posted on the internet site, grenadabroadcast.com.
Straker claimed that “whereas Dr Keith Mitchell openly cursed off the press and took people to court, the situation now is even more frightening. It is one in which media people are questioned by agents of the government, leaving no paper trail; and media owners are questioned about the programmes that are aired.”