Commissioner of Police Colin John and other senior police officers have met with members of the media who wrote to him on Jan. 30 about “aggression” directed to them outside the Serious Offences Court on Jan. 25.
The meeting, last Wednesday, was also attended by Deputy Commissioner of Police, Frankie Joseph, head of the Criminal Investigations Department, Superintendent of Police Clauston Francis, and Head of the Police Public Relations Department, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Junior Simmons.
Kenton Chance, of iWitness News, Clare Keizer and Kemarlie Durrant, of Searchlight, and Haydn Huggins, who freelances for The Vincentian, all of whom signed the letter, attended the meeting.
John told the media representatives that the police take every report of crime seriously.
He said that the police force believes in a free press and will do what it can to ensure that a free press continues to exist in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“I can assure you that the police take incidents like this seriously,” the police chief said and informed the media that an investigation had been launched into the incident.
Meanwhile, the media spoke of the impact that such incidents have on their ability to do their work and their personal well-being.
The meeting discussed suggestions to educate the public about the rights and responsibilities of the media and members of the public in public spaces, including outside the law courts.
The meeting came after the journalists wrote to John expressing concern at what they regard as the “escalating issue of threats by members of the public against and aggression” towards journalists covering the Serious Offences Court (SOC) and Kingstown Magistrate’s Court (KMC).
In the Jan. 30 letter, copied to the National Security Minister, the Chief Magistrate, Senior Magistrate as well as the Superintendent of Prisons, the journalists said “this has been an ongoing situation about which journalists have complained repeatedly over the years to police officers assigned to the court”.
In the letter, the journalists said that their correspondence relates specifically to an incident outside the SOC on Jan. 25, “that went above and beyond anything that journalists reporting on the court have experienced recently”.
Chief Magistrate, Rechanne Browne, speaking in court on Feb. 3, said, “I have noted your concerns and I had no idea all that excitement used to happen outside”, adding, “there will be no excitement outside”.
Meanwhile, in a Feb. 6, response to the letter Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Ralph Gonsalves said the issue is “as serious one and the state authorities are obliged to address it firmly and urgently”.
He told the media of a summary notation he had written for transmission to the Commissioner of Police, Chief Magistrate and Attorney General.
In the notation, the prime minister said:
“SVG is a free and democratic country which functions within the framework of the rule of law. In this context, among the persons who possess rights and obligations are journalists. Threats of violence against journalists are wholly unacceptable! Let us ensure that journalists are safe in their practice of their profession always, especially in the precincts of our Law Courts. For your urgent attention and advice.”
Gonsalves further said that SVG is a young, independent, democratic nation.
“We must never allow unruly and/or utterly selfish, ignorant persons, however inflamed their passion may be, to subvert or diminish in unlawful and/or unreasonable, unacceptable ways our democratic way of life, social solidarity, and the basic rights of others.”
The prime minister said that too much of all this “‘subversion”, unlawful conduct and atomised individualism are manifest across our Caribbean (including St. Vincent and the Grenadines), and the world. Decent, law-abiding citizens in social solidarity must resist.”