St Lucia sports ministry bans local journalist

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CASTRIES, St Lucia — Sports journalist Robertson Henry of Saint Lucia, who is the co-owner of sportcaraibe.net, a sports website catering to the marketing and promoting of Caribbean sports, has been banned by the Ministry of Sports from any involvement with local sports events and athletes.

In an email, which was copied to almost fifty other individuals, including media and Ministry of Sports personnel, the Director of Youth and Sports, Victor Reid, attempted to impose a number of bans upon the multiple-awarded sports journalist.

The email followed an altercation between Henry and Anthony Debeauville of the Voice newspaper, which resulted in Debeauville being floored by a punch by Henry.

The incident, which took place at the George Odlum Stadium during the opening day of the 2010 Windward Islands School Games, is alleged to have been the result of insulting or threatening language leveled at Henry by Debeauville.

Without waiting for the law of the land to take its course, Reid sent an email to Henry, saying, “It is with deep regret that I hereby inform you that the Ministry of Social Transformation, Youth and Sports wishes to terminate any ties that we have with you and sportcaribe with immediate effect.

“Your actions at the George Odlum Stadium on Sunday 25th July 2010 during the 2010 Windward Islands Official Opening Ceremony and Athletics Championship, cannot be condoned, and necessitates the termination of your services and collaborations in all forms with and to us.”

in what is now being called a hasty, illegal, and unconstitutional action, Reid wrote, “That you are not welcome at any Youth and or Sporting activity under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Transformation, Youth and Sports;

“That you are with immediate effect banned from the Windward Islands Championship venues and village;

“That you shall not engage any of the players of these games to interview or hold any discussion on any matter;

“That you are not to visit the offices of the Department of Youth and Sports at any time;

“That you are to with immediate effect desist from the publication of all articles pertaining to the Windward Islands Championship in the print, television or internet medium, (if you do not desist we shall be forced to publicly denounce your reports and or comments);

“That you should in no way link this Ministry with any future endeavours that you may propose or implement.

“A letter from the Permanent Secretary shall be delivered to you soon, further outlining our position and relationship with you.”

When contacted, Henry stated that the emailed letter was brought to his attention by a friend, and has since sought legal advice on the issue, for the email has greatly affected his work.

He also pointed out that, since the email was sent out by Reid, all of the sporting organisations in Saint Lucia have stopped sending him information on their programmes.

According to Henry, when he contacted officials of the various sporting organisations, he was told that since the Ministry of Sports banned him, they have no other choice but to follow suit.

Additionally, he says that a number of arrangements with private sector agencies were cancelled as a result of the Reid’s email.

When asked if Saint Lucia’s Ministry of Sports has such powers, Henry replied that according to the information he obtained during researching the issue, the email is a clear case of defamation of character, the bans imposed are illegal, and that the Director of Youth and Sports overstepped his boundaries.

A leading member of the trade union movement in Saint Lucia said, “There are no provisions in the Public Service Regulations empowering any government official to take such action.”

He further pointed out that this is a perfect opportunity for the current government to put measures in place to protect the state from such actions, and that disciplinary action should be taken against the Director of Youth and Sports.

An official of the Ministry of Youth and Sports said that pressure was placed on the Director to take action, but upon reflection, he clearly went overboard.

The official admitted that no one has seen it fit to apologise to Henry as a result of the email, it being hoped that it would die a natural death.

Clearly Henry has no such intentions, for already his attorney Wayne Harrow has written to Attorney-General Lorenzo Rudolph Francis on the matter.

Henry says no reply have been received from the AG’s office but he will not rest, until he gets what is due to him, although he refused to say what he is seeking in terms of compensation.

One government official said that another lawsuit against the government is too many, and the best thing for the AG’s Office to do is make an offer to Henry.

A legal expert after reading the email pointed out that this is a case the government should not bother attempting to mount a defence against, “for they cannot win that one.”

Are there lessons to be learnt from this for the current government and those to come? The legal expert admits that this is not the first time that public servants have made the state liable as a result of their actions, and is time something be done.

He added that the AG should give directions to the Public Service Commission to take disciplinary action against the Director of Youth and Sports.

He said that the case against Henry has been prejudiced in many ways; the Director of Youth and Sports’ email being one of them.

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