Why no debates
“Owen Arthur has clearly shown he wants to avoid full debate of the issues. It smacks of arrogance and is a most anti-democratic move because full and open debate is the lifeblood of democracy. Limiting debate of the issues to the political platform puts Barbadians at a serious disadvantage,” — then Opposition Leader David Thompson calling for televised general election debates on December 27, 2007.
Not so long ago Barbadians were focused on their television and computer screens, fascinated by the happenings of the 2012 United States presidential election. Undoubtedly the highlight for many of them was the engaging public debates between United States President Barack Obama and his Republican Party challenger Mitt Romney.
So psychologically and perceptively impactful and important were these three exercises between the leaders, and the other one between their running mates, deemed, that when Obama “lost” the first debate those close to him went virtually into a state of panic.
And then when the US leader bounced back to “win” the remaining two discussions in the minds of most, it went a long way in assisting him in some public opinion polls, and instilled the type of confidence in his camp that he was back on track.
Barbados is by no means the US with its large and influential television networks, partisan and so called independent media commentators who dominate political discussion.
That said, we feel it would be entirely disappointing and regrettable were there to be no televised political debates on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, the island’s long television station, for a second consecutive general election.
The last time such took place was during the 2003 general election campaign. One easily remembers the then relatively unknown new Democratic Labour Party candidate Richard Sealy impressing viewers and, in the opinion of some analysts and casual observers, emerging the victor in a debate with his far more experienced opponent, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade at the time, Dame Billie Miller.
In a prior election there was also the fascinating face off between leaders Owen Arthur, Prime Minister at the time, and then Opposition Leader David Thompson. There are obviously some individuals who would argue that with the availability of technology and various means to transmit a political message to voters, including the popular social media outlets, there is less a need for a televised debate.
They might also point out that technology now also enables both the Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party to stream video and audio of their various political mass meetings and other events, allowing members of the electorate who prefer to stay at home, or may be incapacitated to be as equally informed as those at the specific locations.
There is merit in these arguments, but we do feel that an absence of televised political debates during general election campaign 2013 will be a lost opportunity for those seeking to represent the people’s interest to connect with, most likely their largest audience.
It is not our place to pre-judge the likelihood of any such debates taking place, but based on his failure to continue the policy started by his predecessor to engage the media and public during a quarterly Press conference televised live, we feel safe predicting that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will not be rushing to CBC’s Pine, St. Michael studios anytime soon to debate with his BLP opponent. Stuart has shown signs of being a more than capable communicator, but unfortunately those signs have been few and far between in his more than three years in charge of this country’s affairs.
A debate or series of debates between other members of the two political parties on key issues in this three week campaign would also be desirable. We are sure Barbadians would be figuratively glued to their televisions screens were there to be a debate between leaders in waiting Chris Sinckler and Mia Mottley.
Why can’t there be a tourism discussion between Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy and his BLP predecessor Noel Lynch? At this time of continued economic struggle, and with the recent CADRES/Barbados TODAY public opinion clearly showing that three quarters of the population is concerned about economic issues like the cost of living, and unemployment, should there not be a special televised debate on such matters? What about a discussion on matters related to education, including the future of state funding of the University of the West Indies?
These and many other issues are worthy and deserving of this intimate engagement involving the public.†