Mr. Hartley Henry, the senior political advisor to Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson and, many say, the primary engineer of the DLP’s election victory in the 2007/2008 campaign, is under police investigation for alleged threats to the editor of the Sunday Sun newspaper. The editor, Carol Martindale, says that Mr. Henry threatened to destroy her reputation unless she printed a story about a DLP political survey in a certain manner.
Ms. Martindale was warned by Mr. Henry to “Do the right thing” or else face the consequences of a destroyed reputation. According to the account in The Nation newspaper, Mr. Henry told Martindale “If the story is not played the right way, I would turn Barbados against you.” Henry also said that The Nation newspaper for the last couple of months had become the “mouthpiece” of Opposition leader Mia Mottley.
As shocking as this one incident might seem to foreigners, most Bajans are not at all surprised. Not in the least bit.
Officially, Barbados is happy to cash in on the perception of the country as “Little Britain” with all that moniker implies about rule of law, public order, democracy and freedoms – but the reality is quite different. Bajans know that our country has not enjoyed true freedom of the press in two decades or more.
Nothing really changes as each new government seeks to gain control of the news media through intimidation, withholding government advertising, outright threats and the occasional use of bullies and even the police to oh-so-carefully deliver a very serious message to uncooperative journalists. These abuses tend to get worse the longer a party is in power and have been documented publicly by professional journalists themselves. (For details, see the list of sources at the end of this article. Note: I’ll have to fill them in later on Monday when I get home from night shift.)
Bajans also know that over the years government officials have been guilty of some terrible abuses of power not just against journalists and news organisations, but also against ordinary citizens and foreigners alike. Corrupt and abusive government officials have destroyed people’s lives and their businesses – safe in the knowledge that no elected or appointed Barbados government official has ever faced charges for these abuses of power. Ever. Not a single one.
Arrogance of Power
In our opinion, the problem with Barbados government officials is much deeper than their simple wish to control the press. In Barbados it is normal for elected or appointed officials to quickly develop and openly display a certain arrogance of power.
Prime Minister Thompson’s election campaign promise that only faithful DLP members would “feast at the fatted calf” perfectly illustrates the prevailing attitude that election to office gives politicians a license to profit, to control and to have revenge upon political enemies.
Successive governments – and the current DLP government is no exception – view themselves and their own power as the highest authority in Barbados. Most people in the UK, the USA or Canada have no concept of how Barbados politicians define “rule of law” as whatever is convenient at the moment.
And if the maintenance and consolidation of power requires the purging of opposition supporters from their employment with government agencies like the UDC, or cutting government advertising to newspapers that don’t support the party in power – government princes like Hartley Henry have no problem abusing their power to achieve the goal.
Hartley Henry’s threatening of newspaper editors like Carol Martindale is merely a symptom of a deeper corruption that is endemic in our two major political parties. The oppression of journalists under the BLP government of Owen Arthur and Mia Mottley was standard operating procedure. The Thompson government are merely a different bunch using the same abusive techniques as the BLP before them. Hartley Henry’s threats are nothing new.
What has changed is that the Barbados news media is finally screaming rape instead of keeping silent. But this time they have to carry it all the way through and not settle for everything just being forgotten as they did when the police illegally assaulted journalists and falsely charged them with criminal offences.
I hope to God that a tape recording was made of Hartley Henry delivering the threats, and I hope to God that the recording is put on YouTube for everyone to hear. I hope that Carol Martindale has the courage and strength to carry this through to the end.
But most of all, I hope that The Nation and all Barbados journalists have finally decided to stop selling themselves to the highest bidder through covering up embarrassing stories in exchange for government advertising and access to easy stories.
Have things really changed around here?
If this Henry Hartley situation just disappears like happens all the time, Bajans will know the answer.
In 1998 communications expert Jennifer Laszlo of Laszlo & Associates, Inc. sent a letter to Prime Minister Bird of Antigua & Barbuda alleging…
“I suffered repeated unwanted sexual advances, harassment and threats from your then senior advisor, Mr. Hartley Henry. He several times indicated to me that if I did not have a sexual relationship with him, that I would not get paid and that he would claim that I had overcharged. I had and will never have a sexual relationship with Hartley Henry. Now it is being claimed that I overcharged, and I have not been paid. This leaves me suffering from unpaid bills, a liabled reputation, and the pain of ongoing inappropriate sexual harassment by your then senior advisor. It also leave the appearance that the threats of sexual harassment were more than threats.”
Here is the full letter that has been circulating on the internet and via email for some time…
As published in The Nation…
THREAT TO SUN EDITOR (online article here)
Published on: 8/23/2009.
EDITOR OF THE SUNDAY SUN, Carol Martindale, yesterday received the threat “to do the right thing” or have her reputation destroyed. The threat came from Hartley Henry, senior political advisor to Prime Minister David Thompson.
Just before 2 p.m. Henry called Martindale to warn her that the results of the poll conducted for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and released yesterday get the same Front Page treatment as polls done on behalf of this newspaper.
Henry expressed annoyance with the publication of the past several SUNDAY SUN editions, charging they were geared towards publicising and enhancing the image of Opposition Leader Mia Mottley.
He said: “For the last couple of months the SUNDAY SUN has become the mouthpiece of Mia Mottley. If the story [referring to reports of the CARDES Poll] is not played the right way, I would turn Barbados against you,” he told a shocked Martindale. He also mentioned to her about “doing the right thing”.
The Royal Barbados Police were immediately summoned to the NATION’S Fontabelle, St Michael offices where a report of Henry’s threatening telephone conversation was made to investigators from the Criminal Investigations Department.
Another editor, who was close by, was also privy to a part of the telephone conversation.
THE NATION has sent an official complaint to Prime Minister David Thompson and has also lodged complaints with the Inter-American Press Association and the World Press Freedom Committee and copied these letters to the Barbados Association of Journalists.
Nation Newspaper Editorial
PAGE ONE COMMENT (online here)
Published on: 8/23/2009.
INDEPENDENT MEDIA in democratic countries can choose to facilitate thought and discussion. Or they can stifle it.
They can advance the cause of society, or they can thwart it and be a disservice to those they serve.
The Nation Publishing Company, publisher of this newspaper, has chosen to promote public discussion on all matters of national importance, and has a record of stoutly defending our right to do so, free of political influence.
We strongly believe in independence of the media, and our record shows that as Governments come and Governments go, we remain constant in serving the interests of the wider society.
We are careful with the power entrusted to us by the people.
We trust that this is not mistaken as being naive or weak.
Over our 36 years we have sought to champion many a cause, including that of freedom of the Press, particularly in the Caribbean.
It is our humbling responsibility today to draw attention to our own cause by identifying a grave threat made to this newspaper and one of its editors.
Yesterday afternoon, Mr Hartley Henry, senior political adviser to Prime Minister David Thompson, telephoned SUNDAY SUN Editor Carol Martindale, a journalist of over 20 years’ experience, threatening to tarnish her reputation, to “bring her down”, and to “turn Barbados against her”, if she did not publish the results of a public opinion poll conducted on behalf of the governing party, the Democratic Labour Party, in a manner that was pleasing to him.
Parts of his threats were also heard by a second editor, Maria Bradshaw, also of over 20 years’ experience.
Given the tone and content of Mr Henry’s remarks, and coming as they did from a person of considerable influence in the Government, complaints have immediately been registered with international media organisations.
This newspaper regards the content and manner of Mr Henry’s phone call as a threat to our right to report matters in a way that we see fit, a fundamental right of the Press.
We also regard it as a dangerous imposition on the democratic freedoms we enjoy and as such undermining the social fabric and stability of our nation.
We call on Prime Minister Thompson to repudiate the conduct of Mr Henry, and in so doing assure Barbadians that his administration frowns on this unwelcome departure from traditional values of Press freedom.
Barbadians can be assured that this newspaper will not run away from a fight, because what we are seeking to defend is essential to the preservation of our democracy and the right of 270 000 souls to get up every morning knowing that they are free to enjoy their democratic rights.
We will not be intimidated or stopped.