Edmond Campbell and Lynford Simpson, Gleaner Writers
Restrictions against journalists covering Parliament intensified during yesterday's sitting of the Senate when police barred reporters from gaining access to the Opposition's conference room.
The latest turn of events unfolded as journalists were faced with a closed door, manned by a plainclothes police officer, when they tried to get interviews with Opposition members who had
earlier walked out of the sitting of
Yesterday's development in Gordon House was remarkable as journalists have not in decades, if ever, been blocked by police from entering the Opposition's quarters to conduct interviews.
The Opposition Senators had left the chamber briefly to discuss how they would respond to the presence of a door barring journalists from walking over to the section of the gallery designated for Hansard writers and overlooking the Government benches.
On the motion for the adjournment, Leader of Opposition Business, Anthony Johnson, said access to the media in Gordon House had never previously been an issue and warned that the actions of those who prevented the media from doing their job was unacceptable and would be strongly resisted.
Senator Johnson said there was a gradual incursion on the freedom of the press previously enjoyed by members of the media, but stressed that the Senate would stand against any such move.
In responding to Senator Johnson, Senate President Syringa Marshall-Burnett said his assertion was unfortunate and pointed out that she had given no instructions for the door to be closed.
She also made it clear that neither the clerk nor any of the orderlies had given instructions to lock reporters out of the Opposition's conference room.
The Senate President said she had asked House Clerk Heather Cooke to carry out an investigation into the incident and submit a report.
The issue of the door being erected to create a divide between reporters and Hansard writers, in the wake of the publication of a photograph showing Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller
"doodling" in Gordon House, was earlier re-ignited during the Senate sitting.
After the preliminary items were taken, Senator Johnson rose to register a
strong protest against the decision to hastily erect the door.
He called on the Senate President to open the door so that videographers could be allowed to move freely from the press area to the visitors' gallery.
Now being informed
Mrs. Marshall-Burnett however said she was being informed for the first time that a door was installed, as she had been off the island, and that media personnel could walk around to the opposite side to gain entry to that area.
Despite Opposition members attempts to persuade the Senate President, she advised the members that a meeting had been called by the House of Representatives for the matter to be discussed on Tuesday.
Senator Johnson however rejected that explanation on the basis that the Upper House was not invited to the meeting.
"Insofar as the Senate is concerned we have taken no decision in a matter of barring the press from free access to the northern part of the gallery and you are going ahead with it," he said.
Declaring that the independence of the Upper House had been invaded, Senator Johnson called on the President to "act in a matter which protects it".
In the wake of Trafigura scandal, journalists have been repeatedly barred from getting close to government ministers, including Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. At times the police have behaved in a threatening manner, as they enforce the new restrictions against the media.