The Opposition has raised alarm over the blocking of journalists who turned up at the Norman Manley International Airport today to cover the arrival of more Jamaicans who had been stranded overseas.
More than 200 nationals returned on flights from Fort Lauderdale, New York and Canada under the government’s controlled re-entry programme amid restrictions on incoming passenger traffic.
But an airport official told reporters to leave saying only the state-owned media, Jamaica Information Service (JIS), would be allowed to provide coverage.
“Please leave, just leave, if you are not from JIS you cannot be here,” said the airport official as reporters converged at the exit near the transportation hall.
He then asked a police sergeant to escort the media workers from the area.
In a statement to the media Wednesday evening, Opposition spokesman on information, Julian Robinson said this was an unacceptable and an unnecessary blot on Jamaica’s excellent ranking on the global press freedom index.
“Barring the press suggests that the government has something to hide. The challenges of this pandemic affect all our people and the arrival of Jamaicans back to their own country is something we all would want to celebrate,” Robinson said.
Last week there was no restriction when the first batch of Jamaicans returned from the United Kingdom.
Several of them have complained that at the airport, they were hungry, denied bathroom use and forced to wait for more than two hours for processing.
Meanwhile, in a series of tweets today, Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson-Smith sought to explain why the JIS was allowed.
“JIS was allowed to take some footage to show that there was nothing to hide,” she said.
Johnson Smith also said people have a right to their privacy.
“Why would you want to witness passengers’ health checks before transportation?” she asked, saying she was sure that those who wish to tell their story will reach out and be on social media.
“I will stand by those who prefer not to, as it is they who seek protection,” she said.
In the meantime, it was bittersweet for Leonard Burnett, one of the arriving passengers who arrived today.
Burnett said he was happy to be home, but a bit saddened that he will not see his family for another two weeks while he is in mandatory state quarantine.