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Letter of the Day: Parliament's barring of media draconian

Published:Tuesday | November 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM


This is an open letter to Derrick Smith, leader of opposition business in the House of Representatives and chairman of the Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament.

Dear Mr Smith:

The Press Association of Jamaica wishes to express its deep concern at the decision by the Internal and External Committee of Parliament to exclude members of the media from the question-and-answer session with Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams, who appeared before the committee on Tuesday, November 10.

We note with even greater concern that the original suggestion before the committee was for the entire session with the police commissioner to take place in camera. The compromise position arrived at was for his scripted, prepared presentation to be made in public, while he was questioned by the committee in private.

As you are aware, it is during the question-and-answer session that many important issues are raised and answered and, as such, where the substantive issues are often revealed to the public.

We regard last Tuesday's barring of the media as an unacceptable exclusion of the press and, by extension, the public, from a matter of huge national interest, with no justifiable reason.

We do note that you, as chairman, had pushed for the session to take place in public, which was palpably the better way to proceed in the interest of transparency and good governance.

We reject the notion that the exclusion of the press and, by extension, the public, from the proceedings was necessary in the interest of national security. Former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington appeared before the committee in 2013 without any such restriction.

In addition, the serious state of crime in Jamaica at this time requires that the top government official responsible for crime fighting be accountable to the people through the country's Parliament.

If, by any remote chance, any questions arose too sensitive to be adequately answered in public, we believe the police commissioner would be quite capable of responding appropriately.

We do not believe the proper approach could possibly be for parliamentarians to seek to anticipate a situation which may or may not have arisen, and then take the draconian route of barring the media, and, by extension, the public, as their way of dealing with a situation which ought properly to have been handled by the police commissioner himself.

We ask that you share our letter with the committee when next you meet, and with the opposition members in Parliament, as our concerns have general application.

Jamaica has made great strides in opening up the procedures in Parliament to public scrutiny. We sincerely hope this unfortunate incident is the last of its kind.


President, PAJ