By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
HOUSE Speaker Halson Moultrie accused media in the country of “descending” to a certain level, adding it was an issue that needed addressing.
He did not clearly explain what he meant, but told House of Assembly members that “fake” and opinionated stories had been published online and in local newspapers.
Earlier, he openly rebuked a Nassau Guardian reporter seated in the House gallery for taking photos of member of Parliament Chester Cooper, who was contributing to debate on a bill to exempt fees for replacement documents lost during Hurricane Dorian.
Speaker Moultrie then ordered the reporter’s cellphone be turned over to a House clerk and the images deleted. “In the gallery, the reporter - it is against the rules of this House and that has been explained when we had the disturbance in this House - for any reporter to use their cellphone in this chamber and to take photographs or videos in this chamber without the approval of the chair,” Speaker Moultrie said, interrupting Mr Cooper’s contribution.
“And so on this occasion I request that you turn your phone over the clerk and to have that portion of the video that you just recorded deleted from your cell phone.
“In future, seek the permission of the chair before you are permitted and allowed to take any video footage of the chamber.”
The reporter had not taken video, but still photos of Mr Cooper, The Tribune was told. The newspaper’s photographer was not in the chamber at the time, Nassau Guardian Executive Editor Candia Dames posted on Facebook yesterday, explaining why the reporter was taking photos of the MP.
“Our photographer, who was not in Parliament at the time, has confirmed that she has never been given any specific permission to take all the hundreds of photos she took in Parliament previously,” Ms Dames wrote.
The speaker’s decision drew criticism from member of Parliament for Mangrove Cay and South Andros Picewell Forbes who argued that free press in the country should have the liberty of gathering photos and video with cellphones.
However, the speaker insisted that permission had to be sought in such instances, adding that even the Hansard was limited with respect to footage according to House rules.
When he spoke to the same issue again during the sitting, Speaker Moultrie said the rules regarding cellphone use had been in place since 2005.
“There were a number of complaints by members that persons were coming into the Parliament taking photographs and so forth of members in embarrassing positions. The rules were also put in place to prevent the cameras from focusing on the documents that our members may have laid on their table because there were complaints in that regard as well where the cameras were focusing down on the desk on members’ documents.
“So these rules were put in place to maintain a certain decorum in the house and to protect the information.”
He continued: “I can imagine the press demonising the speaker as a person who is trying to prevent freedom of speech and freedom of expression and so forth, but I am of the view and I’ll say this for the record that the media, despite all the change in technology, has descended to a level in this country that needs to be addressed.
“They are competing with social media and as a consequence a number of false reports, fake reports and opinionated stories are appearing in the newspapers and I (have) even seen on social media videos of members of Parliament that have been taken completely out of context and other information presented on social media. It’s being done.
“It cannot be denied, and so we have to maintain a certain level in this chamber to protect the institution itself from that sort of infringement by unscrupulous persons because in every sector of society you will have those type of individuals and the media is not exempted from that.
“That has been my experience these two and half years,” Speaker Moultrie said.
In May, after videos of a surprising outburst in Parliament went viral on social media, Speaker Moultrie ruled that visitors were prohibited from carrying cellphones into the gallery.
At the time, he said the rule did not apply to members of Parliament, technocrats and the media. However, he said the media will have to seek permission from the House through Chief Clerk David Forbes to capture cellphone video.
In May, Fontella Chipman-Rolle, sister of Centreville MP Reece Chipman, stood in the gallery and threw several white wrist bands onto the floor of the House of Assembly.
She wore a shirt that said “Chipman strong”.
“Change the system,” she shouted as police pulled her out of the chamber. “Our land will be returned to us, not by you but by the God we serve.”