Bipartisan criticism of letter published in The Royal Gazette

  • The sessions house. Photo David Skinner

    The sessions house. Photo David Skinner

Both sides of Parliament condemned inflammatory speech after Pembroke South East MP Rolfe Commissiong denounced an anonymous letter placed prominently in The Royal Gazette.

The exchange saw Government, backed by Attorney General Mark Pettingill, agree to join with the Opposition in exploring legislation against attacks behind pseudonyms on blogs, talk radio and in newspapers.

The Progressive Labour Party MP rose during the Motion to Adjourn to condemn the March 14 letter, signed ‘Let’s Move On’, which called on blacks to “count yourselves lucky” for being transported from Africa during the time of slavery.

Mr Commissiong noted the anonymous letter also denounced veteran journalist Ira Philip for “trying to inflame us” with a March 9 article celebrating black pharmacist Olivia Tucker.

“How does The Royal Gazette editor allow this to be printed in a country with a black majority?” he asked.

He called on the newspaper to issue an apology for what he called “an insult to black Bermudians and right-thinking white Bermudians”.

During the subsequent debate, the letter — which appeared on the Opinion page — was at times called an “article”.

But both sides of the House agreed that the tenor of anonymous speech across the Island’s media had gotten out of hand.

Pembroke East MP Walter Roban called for an immediate change in the publishing of letters, adding: “The blogs also reflect it. Not just on The Gazette, but blogs generally.”

Transport Minister Shawn Crockwell rose to congratulate Mr Commissiong for “a compelling and relevant speech”, and invited Attorney General Mark Pettingill to “explore the constitutionality of what we are discussing”.

He called for a legislation against attacks behind pen names.

Mr Pettingill agreed, saying the letter had made him “cringe” and adding that he had hoped it was written by someone who was not from Bermuda.

Saying that striking down anonymous tirades was “something I want to look at”, the Warwick North East MP observed: “It’s nice to see we can join on the same page.”

Opposition Leader Marc Bean called the opinion piece one of the most “vile and wicked letters I have ever read in my life”.

Noting Mr Pettingill’s remarks, Mr Bean said: “He hopes that’s a spirit that’s been transplanted into this country. Unfortunately the reality is that it is the fruit that has its roots deeply embedded in this country.”

Adding that “liberty is not licence”, Mr Bean remarked: “This is the first time we have had real reasoning with this issue in this House.”

He also told the House that he had received an apology for the letter from Acting Editor of The Royal Gazette Jeremy Deacon.

“In Bermuda, the elephant in the room is race,” he added.

Mr Commissiong was saluted by Premier Craig Cannonier at the close of emotional last hour of the House of Assembly.

“He should be championed — he has brought us together.”

Of Thursday’s letter, the Premier said: “For the life of me, how does this kind of language come from Bermuda?”

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Published Mar 16, 2013 at 7:46 am (Updated Mar 16, 2013 at 7:45 am)

Bipartisan criticism of letter published in The Royal Gazette

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