Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Editor's note

Mathilda Twomey and the threat to press freedom

TODAY is very concerned about the statements made by Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey yesterday morning on Bonzour Sesel, statements that reflect the judiciary's repressive tendency since Mrs Twomey was appointed Chief Justice.

In trying to justify her decision to grant an order effectively gagging the press in the Damienne Morel murder case, Mrs Twomey said "if they don't want to learn the lesson, we'll have to make them learn the lesson".

Mathilda Twomey; the sister to one of James Michels advisers
She cites the fact that this newspaper sends supposedly inexperienced journalists to cover court stories, stating that several stories have been misreported, to explain her repressive stance towards TODAY, which Mrs Twomey seems to have singled out.

It is regrettable that Mrs Twomey feels that it is her job to make the press "learn lessons". It is not, we can assure her. The Chief Justice's role has never been to control the press.

When mistakes do occur, TODAY always rectifies the errors: we have never shied away from our responsibilities. But what Mrs Twomey needs to understand is that mistakes are more likely to happen when information is hidden and not readily available, as is the case with the judiciary and many ministries and parastatal bodies.

We have covered countless court stories because tragedies are played out every day in the country’s courtrooms and it is only when the press shines a light on the workings of the judiciary that we can ensure that the courts perform their duties in a satisfactory manner. Regardless of what Mrs Twomey may feel, the courts are accountable to the public and it is our role as an independent newspaper to bring to the fore the way cases are dealt with by lawyers, juries and judges alike.

The Chief Justice's reflections on SBC yesterday show that she does not fully comprehend the role of an independent press in a democracy. Her solution to the fact that the public will be deprived of information if she gags the press is baffling - "the public can come and follow cases if they're interested. Even if we do not have enough space to accommodate all of them".

The accepted - and reasonable - way to deal with factual mistakes in newspapers in all democracies around the world is to request that a rejoinder is published, as unsatisfactory as this recourse may seem. The solution is not and never has been to gag the press.

Hinting at some form of bad faith on our part, Mrs Twomey says that to ensure no mistakes are made, "it would have been so easy to call the person responsible for media relations at the judiciary". Yet, Mrs Twomey regretted, in a correspondence to TODAY recently, that the judiciary did not have a media officer. A week ago, when we learnt that lawyer Anthony Juliette had asked for a gagging order against TODAY, we wrote to the judiciary to ask that a copy of the court proceedings be made available to us. Our email was ignored.

Judgments and court proceedings are not readily available to the press in Seychelles. In fact judgments, which are meant to be public documents, are only available at a fee, sometimes days after they have been issued. The press cannot wait for when the judiciary is ready to communicate. This is not how it works. We have a duty to our readers to inform them of what is going on as the workings of the judiciary affect many ordinary people. Our duty is to them.

Fittingly, the 2015 Ibrahim Index of African Governance shows a dramatic deterioration in the country's performance in the freedom of expression index. Mrs Twomey should reflect on that instead of trying to stifle freedom of the press and of expression, let alone alienate the local press corps and its "inexperienced" journalists.

Source: Today in Seychelles