Monday, 19 October 2009

Freedom of Press on St Helena

I was intrigued to read what the Government owned St Helena Herald had to say about the arrest of the Editor of the rival St Helena Independent, reported in my post of 10th October.

The answer is, not very much. But what it does and does not say is interesting.

Neither the particular incident nor the rival publication are mentioned.

Nevertheless the October 9th edition includes a press release from the Chief Executive of Solomon & Company revealing that she had asked the police to investigate how company information got into the hands of the media.

The paper begins with a rather oblique editorial which is worth examining.

It begins by pointing out that whilst the editor of the Herald is entitled to freedom of expression as every other Journalist, policy prevents the editor from commenting on matters that defame an individual or company so I will therefore leave it at that. But she doesn't. Later, after dealing with a totally unrelated issue she continues:

One might argue that there is a need for free press or free media and there is. But she notes that there are certain restrictions on a free press, and Defamation and Copyright, including using material before it has been released, are mentioned.

A few other comments caught my eye:

- Free press encourages journalists to keep the public informed to comment freely and expose wrongdoing but this does not mean the journalist has to do the wrong doing. I wonder to whom the Herald is referring?

- Is the required information of high public interest and not just what the public is interested in? One might wonder who decides what information is "high" public interest and what is not.

- Has it been released to the correct people before being published?

I can understand that being the editor of the Herald is not an easy job in circumstances such as this, and it is unwise for someone outside who does not know the full facts to comment, but if regret could not be expressed at the heavy handed action of the authorities (sledgehammers and nuts come to mind), it might perhaps have been better to have "left it at that."

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