It would have been reasonable to expect that acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams would have been deeply concerned when he heard that journalists who were legitimately pursuing news stories on behalf of their audiences had come under gunfire last weekend. Instead, the Commissioner seemed no more than moderately interested in the reports and offered only a token response to providing some form of protection for journalists covering stories in known areas of violent crime. Commissioner Williams, who is not only a police officer but also an attorney, must know that what is involved here hinges on the issue of a free media operating in a democratic society. That is not to overlook the very important responsibility of the police service to “protect and serve” and to ensure the safety of individuals against criminal activity. But the CoP appears to need to be reminded that the work of the media is in part about preserving the rights of the entire population to communicate and to receive communications without let or hindrance.
Today, even if an event occurs in Greenland or in some remote mountain pass in Afghanistan, it can be flashed around the world, at times in seconds. That is in part because of the right of people to know what is happening in their world. It is even more imperative that in this small geographic space, amongst a small population, people need to be kept informed during the 24-hour day, and journalists need to be free to go about their business of collecting news and information on behalf of their audiences. That, Mr Commissioner, is the responsibility of the media and journalists: to go out to wherever there are important or unimportant events and happenings and to report on them. That information is required not for the personal benefit of reporters and the media houses they work for, but rather to circulate information so that people can organise their lives and formulate opinions on the basis of factual knowledge.
As well as facilitating this activity in the public interest, the police have a responsibility to protect and serve in the broader national interest. In those circumstances, the response of Commissioner Williams could and should have been far more proactive and concerned. To start with, the CoP should have responded by instructing his officers to investigate and to track down whoever was taking potshots at the media. The chances are, too, that the shots came from an illegal firearm. Instead, when reporters asked Mr Williams about this frightening incident, what they got was a lukewarm offer to provide minimal protection and an unsolicited rebuff that the police would not be providing bodyguards for reporters. Even before this particular incident, the acting CoP had not inspired much public confidence in his handling of matters since he unexpectedly took the helm of the service. To put it mildly, Mr Williams seems to be out of touch with the feelings and fears of the public about the current climate of widespread and very violent crime. Luckily, all of the reporters and camera operators came out of the situation safely, thanks to the officers at the Besson Street Police Station who responded quickly by giving them an escort out of the area. But the country may be in even deeper trouble than the general population fears, if the acting CoP appears to be apathetic and untroubled that members of the media reporting on that situation may now come within a few feet of death from the barrel of a gun.