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Ex-pat editor under fire from ministers in press freedom row

A British editor working in the Bahamas is at the centre of a major row over press freedom, with three leading politicians demanding that he be thrown out of the country.

John Marquis, managing editor of the country’s top selling daily, The Tribune, is standing firm against what he calls “an orchestrated onslaught” by a government minister, a senator and the chairman of the ruling Progressive Liberal Party.

Trouble flared after the former UK regional press journalist produced a hard-hitting appraisal of the government’s performance in the countdown to next year’s general election.

He called foreign minister Fred Mitchell an ineffectual “joker” and dismissed PLP chairman Raynard Rigby as “a preposterous figure who has neither the gumption nor gravitas to be chairman of a major political party”.

John said: “Many politicians in developing countries have problems with newspapers that tell the truth. Well, The Tribune tells the truth, and that’s that.”

Bitter exchanges over John’s work permit are now raging in Bahamian newspapers and on a string of websites. There is even talk of the dispute splitting the Bahamas Cabinet.

Politicians calling for his head are Mitchell, Rigby and Senator Philip Galanis. They have accused him of biased and prejudiced reporting and want his work permit withdrawn. The senator has claimed Marquis has no respect for Bahamians.

But tourism minister Obie Wilchcombe – a former journalist – has come out in his support, saying: “He has criticised me in the past, but he’s entitled to do so in a democratic society.”

And The Tribune’s 76-year-old owner and publisher, Eileen Carron, has written a string of editorials supporting the veteran newsman, calling him “a brilliant writer” with a passion for press freedom.

The Punch, a big-selling Nassau tabloid, has also jumped to the editor’s defence, saying: “The fact that he is foreign and white does not mean he shouldn’t be critical of locals and the PLP. Like everyone else, he has a right to his opinions.”

Even The Tribune’s main rival, The Nassau Guardian, has weighed in with a ‘hands off him” editorial.

John Marquis, (62), a former Provincial Journalist of the Year, is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year, his acclaimed book Blood and Fire, about the wartime murder of Sir Harry Oakes – still a highly sensitive issue in the Bahamas – was considered extremely provocative by Nassau’s wealthy white elite.

He began his career on the Northampton Chronicle and Echo. He spent many years as London sports editor of Thomson Regional Newspapers in the 1970s and 1980s, then spent a decade as editor of Packet Newspapers in Cornwall. He has also enjoyed a long association with Reuters, both as staff journalist and stringer.

  • John’s latest book – Papa Doc: Portrait of a Tyrant – will be published next April to coincide with the centenary of the birth of Haitian dictator Francois Duvalier.