PM Wescot-Williams weighs in on website-row – “Government is entitled to establish its media policy”

POSTED: 08/29/13 12:45 PM

St. Maarten – The Council of Ministers did yet not deal with the recommendations affecting local media that Vromi-Minister Maurice Lake outlined this weekend, Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said at yesterday’s press briefing. “But the government is entitled to establish its own media policy,” she said.
Minister Lake expressed his irritation about the SMN website that incorrectly reported last Friday the fall of the third Wescot-Williams cabinet in a letter to the Council of Ministers in which he calls for action against yellow journalism. Lake proposes a phased accreditation system and he wants foreign journalists to obtain work permits.

Wescot-Williams pointed out that discussion in the Council of Ministers are confidential, and that she commented on the issue on her own account. “The government is entitled to establish a media policy,” she said. “This is not a policy about the media, but the government’s own media policy.”
The prime minister emphasized that all members of her cabinet “respect the right to freedom of expression and the right to free media. Absolutely.”
At the same time Wescot-Williams pointed out that there are limits to that freedom. “None of these rights are absolute. There is an old saying that goes – someone’s right ends where the right of the other begins. We have in our constitution a bill of rights to which we subscribe as a government.”
The PM noted that some of the questions that have arisen from Minister Lake’s letter live in the community, and they live among the media. “My first preference would be self-regulation,” she said. “Not only in the media but in other areas as well.”
The PM suggested a “code of ethics or a code of conduct. “Where they think it is necessary, they could come up with certain recommendations. That is nothing new. It is done all over the world.”

Wescot-Williams tied her answer to the media-question in with discussions about social dialogue in the context of the National Development Plan. “We need to be able to have that discussion and we need to be able to have it on a level that will give people the feeling of being able to voice their opinion. Should we encourage some of the vulgarity that is used on internet sites and is that a representation of St. Maarten? People ask those questions and we must be able to discuss them in a forum where it will lead to something, to awareness of our people.”
Passionately, Wescot-Williams said that not only the government, but also the media have a role to play. In this context she referred to the Transparency International integrity assessment of Curacao that was critical of the role the media play in that community.
Wescot-Williams stands squarely behind Minister Lake’s criticism of the reporting on SMN. “To say that we cannot say anything …. We should be able to say it. There are some things the people in St. Maarten condemn.”
The PM confirmed that citizens with the French nationality that live on the French side of the island need a work permit to be able to work on the Dutch side.

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