The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is a tenet of both Roman and Islamic law that has remained constant throughout the ages – ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat – the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on the one who denies. And this holds true whether the person who denies is a politician, priest, pervert or pimp.
The role of the media, whether print, electronic or broadcast is to educate and inform and to present factual news and balanced opinions without the suggestion of partisanship or personal bias. The media sometimes fail on this score because mortal men and women are the media, and subject to personal foibles, corporate dictates and political linkages. They can – by their deliberate spin – influence public opinion to a significant degree.
But, thankfully, in most instances and in the case of Barbados specifically, the media operate within the realm of an educated public which easily discerns where unvarnished news starts and stops and where spin begins. We hold absolutely no brief for anyone, inclusive of politicians or political parties. But as a member of the media fraternity who, too, can be accused rightfully or wrongfully of not always carrying out that which it now trumpets, we feel it incumbent upon us to call a spade a spade and to address a particularly troubling scenario.
Former Government Minister Donville Inniss finds himself charged before a USA court for money laundering in that jurisdiction. He has pleaded not guilty, the matter is sub judice and there is a presumption that he is innocent until the burden of proof is met by the agency that has declared. The role of the media in this or most jurisdictions, is not to present “facts” that might or might not have a bearing on a matter that is sub judice, nor is that role one of presenting “facts” that have no criminality in their origins but might simply serve to create an impression that those “facts” are suggestive of possible criminality. That is not the role of the media.
We note where the Husband Heights, St James home of Mr Inniss became a highlight of a newspaper article that was part of a larger exposé on his holdings and stated real estate interests. Taken into consideration Mr Inniss’ current legal troubles, the juxtaposition of these properties could influence a blinkered Stevie Wonder to see a connection between his present troubles and all of these possessions. In fairness to Mr Inniss, we believe that since the time was taken to photograph and highlight his St James residence for publication, it should also have been highlighted that Mr Inniss was in possession of his St James home prior to becoming a Member of Parliament in 2008. That is a matter of public record. But that might not have helped the optics being created.
We also note that reference to a “civil suit” in connection to an adult entertainment company was made in the discourse on Mr Inniss, even though the case that hangs over the former minister’s head is a “criminal matter”. Again, most laypersons would appreciate the difference between a civil suit and a criminal charge and not seek to link or juxtapose the two as indicative of previous indiscretions criminal or otherwise. But to link them helped the optics that were being created.
Some seven years ago Barbados Labour Party politician and prospective St Philip West candidate Roger Smith appeared before the District ‘A’ Magistrates’ Court on 18 charges related to the theft of $1.6 million from Sagicor Life Incorporated. We do not recall any photographs of his home or other properties appearing in any local publication following his indictment. We do not recall any search of registers at the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office (CAIPO) to discover whether Mr Smith had other business interest outside of his management position at Sagicor. The point we make here is that following Mr Smith’s charges the law courts of Barbados were left to do their job and no attempt was made to present “facts”, extraneous or otherwise, that might have swayed public opinion positively or negatively towards or against Mr Smith. The media did the right thing then.
Politicians running afoul of the law is nothing new to this island. It has occurred within the ranks of both of Barbados’ main political parties. We have had a late Member of Parliament imprisoned in this jurisdiction. We have had another parliamentarian fleeing Barbados to avoid prosecution. We have had a former parliamentarian and lawyer being found guilty of misconduct by the Bar Association with respect to a client’s money and being suspended for three years. And in each of those cases, the legal processes in place were allowed to function without any semblance of the media catering to any political feeding frenzy that might have existed.
On the other side of the coin, alleged, reputed and convicted drug traffickers have passed through Barbados’ judicial system and the media are yet to highlight their properties, functioning or dummy companies at CAIPO, either before or after their trials. We reiterate that we hold no brief for Mr Inniss or any politician but he deserves the same presumption of innocence that the media have appreciated and afforded others without attempting to paint any picture whatsoever that could reasonably be juxtaposed with a matter that is still very much sub judice.