In a first of its kind case, the Barbados Nation newspaper’s publisher and two editors were yesterday slapped with criminal charges over the publishing of a picture of minors.
The police are alleging, under the Protection of Children Act, that the photograph which accompanied a story headlined “Sex Scene” on October 26 was an indecent picture of two 14-year-olds in violation of the Act.
Publisher of the Nation Publishing Co Ltd, Vivian-Anne Gittens, Editor-in-Chief Roy Morris and News Editor Sanka Price made brief court appearances yesterday after spending the morning in custody as lawmen questioned them in the presence of their attorneys Alair Shepherd QC and Ezra Alleyne.
The Barbados Nation newspaper is a member of the One Caribbean Media (OCM) group which also includes Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), The Express and TV6 are part of CCN.
Asked for a comment last night, OCM CEO Dawn Thomas said: “I don’t believe there is any merit in the charges and we intend to vigorously defend them in the court.”
The arrests are connected to the news item highlighting the Facebook posting of a cellphone video of two pupils reportedly having sex in a classroom.
The issue sparked an immediate debate with some members of the public questioning the failure to monitor pupils and the breach of the no-cellphone rule at school. Others criticised the posting of the video and those who continued to circulate it on the Internet.
The controversy also engulfed the newspaper which was lambasted by some, and supported by others, for the publication.
Gittens, Morris and Price were at the District A Police Station from 10 a.m. yesterday and it took a while after they were charged around 1 p.m. to appear in court.
The three were shuttled from District A Police Station in police vehicles to the Central Police Station trailed by a host of media personnel.
Initially the accused were ushered to the closed Criminal Court No.2 before the courts were switched and Magistrate Wayne Clarke summoned from the Coroner’s Court at Roebuck Street, The City to deal with the matter in Criminal Court No.1.
The three were placed on the prisoners’ bench where murder accused Ryan Bullen was placed next to them.
Morris, 52, was the first to appear in the dock late in the afternoon charged with being an employee of the Nation Publishing with responsibility as Editor-in-Chief in the Saturday Sun of October 26 “did show an indecent photograph of … and …, children under the age of 18 years, to wit 14 years.
Sixty-two-year-old Gittens’ charge read similarly, that being an employee of the Nation Publishing on October 26 with responsibility as publisher, did show an indecent photograph of the two 14-year-old minors in the Saturday Sun. Price, 53, the author of the story, was charged with, being a journalist employed by the Nation Publishing on October 26, he “did show” an indecent photograph of the two minors.
The three were not required to plead to the indictable matter and prosecutor, Insp Trevor Blackman, did not object to bail but asked that their passports be seized.
In the end, Gittens, Morris and Price, who face the possibility of a maximum of five years in prison if convicted of the offence, were released on $5,000 bail to return to court on March 11.
Attorney Alleyne applied to the court to have early disclosure in the matter, citing the nature of the charges.
Insp Blackman said the request for disclosure would be supplied way in advance of any trial.
Magistrate Clarke assured the defence team that every effort would be made by the prosecution to fully co-operate so that the matter could start within a reasonable time.
After completing the bail signing, Gittens, Morris and Price left the precincts of the court accompanied by a number of corporate officers from Nation Publishing and parent company Nation Corporation, three of whom signed bail on their behalf.
The unprecedented charges come as the Nation newspaper move into high gear with activities marking its 40th anniversary on November 23.
In a related case on Wednesday, two boys, one 15, the other 16, went to court on charges of taking indecent photographs of children in relation to the same article. They were released on Bds$10,000 bail to return to court on November 27.
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