Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Bahamas is yet to have a functioning Freedom of Information Act ...Maybe, it we don’t have one by the end of the year, Vienna can help

WHERE, oh where is that illusive Freedom of Information Act, 2012?

 
 
 
Tribune242
Nassau, The Bahamas
 
 
 
 
The Act was passed by the FNM Government shortly before last year’s election, which swept the FNM from power. It was to come “into operation on such date as the Minister may appoint by notice published in the Gazette, and different dates may be so appointed for different provisions”.
 
Since then, it has gone AWOL - missing without leave. Hardly a month had passed after their election to parliament in May last year than “learned“ PLP politicians began pontificating on what areas of news reporters should be covering. They wanted reporters to focus on more positive news.
 
At that point, someone should have whispered in their ears that if they made positive news, reporters would happily write about it. Journalists neither make the news, nor do they cover it up. However, they do record what news is made by others. At the moment politicians are excelling in creating news, news that obviously they wish reporters would ignore. The news that they are now making is neither positive, nor is it intelligent. But it does reveal a strong tendency to cover up – a tendency to blow smoke screens to divert attention. Such a tendency is only bait to a well-trained reporter.
 
Last year, one of these politicians advocated more investigative reporting. He believed that it would produce more balanced reports, which would create a better informed public. How right he was. But where was the Freedom of Information Act that would make it easier for reporters to get such information?
 
It was nowhere to be found, but Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis had the brilliant idea to suggest that there should be punishment for “biased reporting”. And who was to be the arbiter of what was a biased report? Why the government, of course.
 
Since the publication of leaked documents revealing the shameful conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, FNM leader Dr Hubert Minnis says his party will now push for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act. We must remind him that his government, before it was removed from office, had already passed the Act. It is just awaiting a date to start acting. Unless, of course, this government now plans to amend it, which Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson indicated in March was the intention.
 
According to the Attorney General, although her government wanted to enact the law as soon as possible, it was now under review. There were certain sections, she said, that needed to be reviewed. “We don’t want to have a situation where we have actually brought something into force and it can’t work.”
 
Can’t work? Can’t work in favour of whom — the people or the government?
 
Already there are so many forbidden areas in the present Act that there will have to be skilful manoeuvring on the part of reporters to get certain information into the public domain.
 
Already, although they have protested that they want a better informed public, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell is uncertain if he will release documents in connection with the Cuban beatings if, and when the inquiry has been completed.
 
The environmentalists are pushing for the passage of the Act to protect the marine environment. If environmentalists had prior warnings of developments that could adversely affect the environment and the livelihood of Bahamians, they could protest sooner. But, so far, permits are approved behind closed doors and before Bahamians know it a precious wetland has been destroyed or a public beach has disappeared.
 
In June last year, the publisher of The Tribune attended the International Press Institute conclave held in Port of Spain, Trinidad to receive a posthumous citation awarded her father, Sir Etienne Dupuch, as the world’s longest serving editor, who spent his life defending press freedom and fighting against social injustice in the Bahamas.
 
At that conference, among many other things that impeded press freedom, the Caribbean’s criminal defamation laws were highlighted, as well as those nations that did not yet have a Freedom of Information Act. It was decided that the IPI would launch a campaign for change in these areas,
 
We knew that the Bahamas would be targeted and so we were relieved that, just before we left for Trinidad, the Freedom of Information Act had passed the House. We reported that the Bahamas did indeed have a Freedom of Information Act.
 
We know that IPI, headquartered in Vienna, would be very interested to learn that the new government was still sitting on it. In fact, the Bahamas is yet to have a functioning Freedom of Information Act. Maybe, it we don’t have one by the end of the year, Vienna can help.
 
September 03, 2013