Voyage to investigate illegal fishing off Ascension: reporting ban on St Helena media is lifted

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A criminal investigation has been carried out into illegal fishing around Ascension Island.

But the media on St Helena were banned from reporting on an investigatory expedition aboard the MFV Extractor until it was over (archive picture by Bruce Salt).

No details of the operation have emerged from official sources at the time of writing.

An injunction was served on Mike Olsson, editor of the St Helena Independent, and Saint FM Community Radio, to prevent them reporting on the voyage for fear of alerting the operators of illegal fishing vessels.

Other media on the island were also bound by the injunction.

Chief magistrate John MacRitchie said in his court judgement that the media would be “unlikely to potentially interfere with the course of justice, if the situation is explained to them”.

He said acting attorney general Angelo Berbotto had failed to explain why the media should avoid reporting the voyage of the MFV Extractor.

He also rebuked Mike Olsson for giving a forthright response to a threatening email from Mr Berbotto. This was blamed for a breakdown in communications that prompted Mr Berbotto to take the extraordinary and draconian step of seeking an injunction at the 11th hour, disrupting publication of the 5 February 2016 edition of the St Helena Independent.

In his judgement in the case, Mr MacRitchie said the injunction would mean inhibiting the freedom of the press – “an extremely important right”.

But he said this was outweighed by the need to prevent “interference with the detection of serious crimes, which are specifically said to be taking place around Ascension  island.”

The affair has raised a number of human rights issues that are expected to be examined in the coming days.

There is also likely to be scrutiny of the actions of Mr Berbotto and the legal service on St Helena.

  • COMMENT: Responsible efforts by St Helena Online to find out the scope of reporting restrictions were unsuccessful. This resulted in the site being unable to report on matters of clear public interest that could, in fact, have been made public, without risk of perverting the course of justice. This became clear when a copy of the court judgement was received on Friday, 4 March 2016, only a day before the injunction would expire. I regard this obstruction as an unwarranted restraint on my human right to freedom of expression and will be considering my response. Simon Pipe, owner, St Helena Online

 

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