Monday, 30 January 2017

Sears Demands Constitutional Amendment for Free Press

Sears Demands Constitutional Amendment for Free Press
PLP Promised Free Press Since 1953

Alfred Sears, former Attorney General
A free press is vital to any democratic society and along with the citizens’ right to know, former Attorney General Alfred Sears is calling on the government to amend the Bahamian constitution to include press freedom.   

“I believe that the right of the people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to know and to be kept informed on the conduct of public affairs via a free press is so fundamental that it should be expressed in the constitution rather than left for judicial construction,” Sears said during his address at The Bahamas Press Club’s recent meeting at the British Colonial Hilton.

During his presentation on ‘The Role of the Media in National Development,’ Sears said he is advocating for the constitution to be amended to include the right to vote and freedom of the press as fundamental rights. 

“I make no apologies for this because as I look at the history of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, the most dramatic examples of accountability have been those occasions when the press through its diligence, through its investigation, and through its determined efforts have reported on the misdeeds of public officials within our country.  It is then that we respond by appointing Commissions of Inquiry,” Sears explained.

The discussion to include freedom of the press in the Bahamian constitution isn’t new. 
In 2013, the Constitutional Commission chaired by Sean McWeeney, QC, advocated for the amendment of the constitution to include a free press.

According to the Constitutional Commission’s report, “It cannot be denied that a free and unbridled press is one of the most important institutions of a democratic society and is deserving of constitutional protection.”

The report recommended that Article 23 of the Bahamian constitution be expanded to include a reference to freedom of the press and the media.

The Constitutional Commission also made the same recommendations in 2006.

Article 23 of the constitution states, “Except with his consent, no person should be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression.”

Sears also agree that this phrase should be construed liberally to include freedom of the press.

Sears, who is also the Progressive Liberal Party’s Fort Charlotte candidate, explained that the PLP, since its inception in 1953, included a free press in its pledge.

The PLP pledged in 1953, according to Sears, “A press which is unbridled.  A press which may be irritating, but it is a press which is not controlled by the policy makers of the state, by the politicians and by the vested interest within the society.”

The Fort Charlotte candidate expressed that the PLP, in its founding documents, also promised servant leadership.

However, Sears said servant leadership is not modeled in the political affairs of the country and as a result, citizens become fearful of those who exercise power.

“The concentration of power is so great, especially in the Office of The Prime Minister, that the citizens feel intimidated and fear with good reason because there have been cases where people have been victimized,” he added.

“And therefore, we see that the exercise of public power within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas tend to have a chilling effect on robust public conversation and petitioning of the government.”

When situations like this occur, Bahamians must wait five years until another general election for their voices to be heard, Sears said.

But, Bahamians should not have wait five years, he explained, because “the important role and the important function of a free press within a democratic society is one of the safeguards of democracy.”