EDITORIAL - Barbadian press blunder
We are not in support of the gratuitous publication of pornography by general-interest newspapers and are vehement in our opposition to the sexual, or any other form of, exploitation of children.
Indeed, our position is common to the press of the English-speaking Caribbean, and in particular to those newspapers with which The Gleaner has fraternal relations. The Nation newspaper in Barbados is among them.
Last week, The Nation's publisher Vivian-Anne Gittens; its editor-in-chef, Roy Morris; and its news editor, Sanka Price, were arrested in Bridgetown, supposedly for publishing "an indecent photograph" of two 14-year-olds having sex in a classroom. If they are found guilty, the trio could serve up to five years in jail.
The journalists were charged under Barbados' Protection of Children Act which, like its Jamaican counterpart, seeks to prevent physical, social and psychological abuse of minors. While the State is the guarantor of these rights, there is a legal burden on adults to help in the policing of potential exploitation.
This newspaper endorses such laws. We, however, have serious reservation about the application of the law in relation to The Nation newspaper and its staff.
Like in Jamaica, there is a growing concern about the state of societal values and attitudes, and especially the behaviour of youth, including schoolchildren. Sexual activity among students is among the issues being debated.
Genuine Public Interest
In that context, children having sex in their classrooms or elsewhere on school campuses is a matter of genuine public interest and, therefore, within the purview of a Barbadian newspaper - as would be the case in Jamaica. That The Nation published a photograph of an incident, with the faces of the minors engaged in the sexual act blurred and unrecognisable, does not suggest an act of prurience that would scandalise public morals, or be deemed the exploitation of children.
While these matters will now be tested in the courts, we are surprised that Barbadian prosecutors would expend energy, public resources and valuable time in pursuing The Nation rather than more immediate and pertinent issues.
We hope that there are no political undertones to this matter, and that it does not imply an attempt to rein in The Nation's feisty independence.
That would be sad and a reversal of that country's historic tolerance of, and government respect for, free and independent media.
Indeed, Barbados was among the first countries in this region to craft a new defamation law that lessens the potential threats to a free press going about its job of informing people and holding before citizens a mirror of the society in which they live.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his Democratic Labour Party should assure the Barbadian people, and by extension Barbados' Caribbean neighbours, including this newspaper, that there is no threat to press freedom in that country.
Mr Stuart will, of course, insist that the prosecutors are independent and free to carry out their jobs without direction or interference from the political executive. In that case, we hope that they quickly return to good sense.
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