A journalist who was reporting on a lawsuit in the Supreme Court had his tape recorder briefly confiscated by a policeman, who deleted several recordings made in court, the veteran newsman has claimed.
During the incident, which reportedly occurred outside the courtroom on Tuesday, the senior journalist said the policeman also listened to confidential recordings stored on the device but unrelated to the lawsuit.
He claimed, too, that his personal mobile phone was also briefly confiscated by the policeman, who conducted a thorough “unlawful” search of the device.
“In all my 33-plus years as a journalist, which included several dangerous assignments working undercover with at least three near-death experiences, I never felt so violated,” he said.
President of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) Milton Walker, in a strongly worded statement last night, called for Chief Justice Bryan Sykes and the Court Administration Division (CAD) to act “decisively to deal with this matter”.
“Identify any misconduct and hold those responsible accountable,” Walker demanded.
The searches came after the veteran newsman claimed he was directed by presiding judge, Justice Sonya Wint-Blair to go with the policeman, identified only as “Constable Scott”, outside the courtroom.
‘Constable Scott’ is believed to be the police bodyguard assigned to the judge.
“Justice Wint-Blair directed me to follow Constable Scott outside with words to the effect that I should ensure that my recordings are not there on my IC recorder when I come back in,” he charged in a report on the incident.
“She also said words to the effect that if I were to use the recordings in any report, then I would see what happens,” he said.
The Gleaner requested from CAD the judge’s account of the incident and the legal basis for the search of the journalist’s recorder and mobile phone, but there was no response up to late yesterday.
The request was acknowledged by Kadiesh Jarrett Fletcher, acting director of client services, communication, and information at CAD.
A similar request to Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay and Deputy Superintendent Dennis Brooks, who are assigned to the communication arm of the police force, went unanswered up to late yesterday.
Brooks acknowledged receiving the request.
Nearly three months ago, another journalist employed to this newspaper had recordings made in court deleted by a court clerk after he was alerted by a female police constable.
But contrary to the provisions of the court’s media policy, the clerk insisted that journalists were barred from making recordings of court proceedings.
Section 9 of the court’s media policy stipulates that “members of the media may tape-record proceedings to verify their notes of what was said in court, but not for broadcast”.
Each registered reporter will be allowed one recording device for audio, not video, it notes.
Section 10 stipulates that journalists from television media will be permitted to record audio for verification purposes only.
The PAJ complained to the CAD about the actions of the clerk, triggering an assurance from the court management agency that “the matter has been addressed with the parties concerned and there should be no recurrence of this unfortunate situation”.
The latest incident left the PAJ president “outraged”.
“These actions by a police officer, especially when [allegedly] carried out under the instruction of a judge, represent a significant abuse of power and a threat to press freedom,” said Walker, who is also head of news for the RJRGLEANER Communications Group.
“It is alarming that a judge would also abuse her authority by threatening the reporter’s liberty when he did absolutely nothing wrong except to do his job.”
Walker insisted that the actions of the policeman not only violated the rights of the journalist, but also undermined the principles of freedom of the press and the importance of a transparent and accountable judicial system.
According to him, the incident contradicts the CAD’s media policy “which explicitly allows members of the media to tape-record court proceedings to verify their notes”.
The journalist involved in Tuesday’s incident said the search of his recorder and mobile phone was his second encounter with Constable Scott that day.
He claimed that about 10:30 a.m., Scott stopped him as he was about to enter the courtroom and gave him a “stern rebuke” for making recordings of the proceedings the previous day after Wint-Blair had barred him from doing so last week.
“He kept reminding me that he was a policeman and that the policy of no recording was a directive from the chief justice and that I could face a fine of $1 million,” the newsman recounted.
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