The police and the press

Acting Police Commissioner David Ramnarine has issued a somewhat convoluted media release making reference to, among other things, the peculiarity of two plainclothes policemen, in turn, surreptitiously occupying positions at the media desk in the Parliament during a sitting of the National Assembly. This was seemingly without either the knowledge or consent of Mr Sherlock Isaacs, the Clerk of the National Assembly and it appeared, to the chagrin of the journalists covering that particular sitting, sufficiently, so we are told, that they opted to voice their disquiet  to Mr Isaacs.

Frankly, there is a certain vagueness about what Mr Ramnarine had to say in the media release about the matter. In no shape or fashion did he even attempt to proffer what can reasonably be construed as a straightforward explanation for the occurrence. What he did say, albeit in an off-handed manner, was that the incident should not have happened in the first place, which, of course, goes without saying. What he neglected to do as well, given that he more or less accepted that the presence of the policemen at the media table was both unauthorized and a distracting invasion of the journalists’ space, was to afford them the courtesy of a public apology which in the circumstances was altogether appropriate.

What comes foremost to mind in this instance is whether the procedures associated with the presence of the police at Parliament Building during sittings of the National Assembly actually allow, in any circumstance, for two rookie policemen to find themselves, in turn, seated at the media table while the House is in session. So one might well wonder about the plausibility of the explanation proffered by the acting Commissioner to the effect that the fact that the two young plainclothes policemen having not been “properly nor thoroughly briefed” and having neglected to “follow the specific instruction given” found themselves in what the police media release describes as “elite company.” What exactly was this “specific instruction” ?

Frankly, if, as this newspaper understands, it was two policemen who, in turn, took up positions at the media desk, one might ask whether the mix-up (or whatever optional term is applied here) actually allowed for, not one but two policemen, in turn, to take up positions at the media table.  Why wasn’t the ‘error’ corrected in short order and why, given the facts at hand, should the presence of the two policemen at the media table not be regarded as an exercise in snooping?

The other obvious query that applies here has to do with whether proper and thorough briefings at an appropriately high level for policemen assigned duties at the Parliament Building have not, by now, become par for the course, so that there is really no good reason why the sort of snafus which the acting Commissioner tried to explain in his media release should occur in the first place.  Truth be told, it strains credulity to suggest that the two policemen, their youth and inexperience notwithstanding, could have been so inadequately briefed and apart from that, so unmindful of the virtue of ensuring that they comprehend specific instructions, to have accidentally set aside their assigned mission, whatever that mission might have been, and end up instead joining the assembled press corps at the media table.

The other not unimportant point to be made here is that while, albeit in an offhanded sort of manner, Mr Ramnarine, in fact, concedes that the policemen ought not to have been sitting where they were, though he neglects to provide any details whatsoever as to the “specific instructions given” which he implies were misunderstood, leading to their excursion into misadventure. This, of course, leaves us none the wiser as to the circumstances that led the policemen to the media table, in the first place.

With due respect to what the acting Commission-er of Police had to say, it stretches credulity to accept that the presence of policemen dressed in civvies and seated at the media table at different times arose out of some breakdown in communication at the level of the police and did not, in fact, derive from some specific official instruction issued to them (which, perhaps, the acting Commissioner might not be ideally positioned to divulge) on the assumption that the presence of the policemen might either pass over the heads of the journalists seated at the media table, or else, politely ignored.

Contextually, it is apposite to point out that journalists attached to this newspaper have reported feeling more than a trifle discomfitted by the presence of plainclothes policemen equipped with recording equipment traversing other spaces, including the courts. Here, one assumes that they are operating on police instructions.

The reality is that while the police and the media both have legitimate information-gathering functions in the execution of their respective duties, it is altogether inconceivable that the two can, simultaneously, perform their respective tasks in spaces sufficiently limited without giving rise to  understandable feelings of discomfort and, on the part of the journalists,  a certain kind of vulnerability. The police, more than most other state institutions, need to be constantly mindful of the paradigms of media freedom and the importance of respecting that freedom, and being seen to respect it.

Given what would appear from sections of both the tone and content of the police media release to be a concession by Mr Ramnarine that in the matter of the occupancy of the media desk in the House the police were not authorized to occupy the positions that they did, we take the acting Commissioner at his word that the relevant “seniors,” have not only been “admonished and reprimanded,”  but have also been cautioned to be mindful of the limitations of the police as far as their duties and responsibilities at the Parliament are concerned.

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