The role of the media

From time to time, it seems necessary to remind politicians of the role of the media in maintaining the delicate balance of a democratic society.

All career politicians should be mindful that their relationship with the media does not change when they take positions of power; it is the new accountability they accept that increases public scrutiny of their actions.

In this, the media are merely an agent of the people, tasked to seek the facts of day-to-day governance and to answer the questions that members of the electorate are entitled to ask of the people they have chosen to represent them. It is an easy thing to say, but a challenging thing to do.

It is one of the unfortunate corollaries of political life that when politicians feel themselves beset by unforgiving media, they blame the failings of human beings working in the media, ignoring editorial checks and balances and the monitoring of media consumers which act as points of review.

This is easier and less painful than investigating the possibility that a government itself and its elected agents might, in some way, be contributing to the problems they face.

At this point in the cycle, the media are accused of failing to report on the “good things” that the government is doing and of generally failing in an imagined duty to support the government in doing its job.

Thus it was just three years ago that the People’s Partnership, a newly formed entity, bristling with righteous anger at the excesses of the PNM, soldiered successfully on the campaign trail championing words like transparency, accountability and support for a free press.

Meanwhile, the government of the day, angered by vexing questions posed by the media about its stewardship of the public purse, retaliated by declaring the media anti-government. But the problem, that government later discovered, was not the media.

All of this is wearisomely familiar to journalists and their readers, viewers and listeners who recall passing this way before. Politicians, it seems, have shorter memories.

In the past few weeks, members of the government have taken advantage of their positions to launch public accusations against members of the media. But shooting the messenger is at best a short-term solution, and has unfortunate repercussions.

The failings of the local media are numerous, but the fourth estate cannot simply be dismissed as having suddenly adopted an anti-government position, en masse and for no apparent reason.

The current Prime Minister had an excellent relationship with and apparent understanding of the media when she took office; with her instinct for seeking consensus, she should work to restore that relationship and in so doing set the tone for her Cabinet and supporters.

Reporters and the 21st-century population they represent are intolerant of obfuscation, incomplete answers, diversionary tactics and the policy of distraction using colourful trivia, whether those methods are employed by members of the government or others who are employed to do the business of the people.

The public that reads newspapers and tunes into broadcasts wants answers. The media intend to keep asking the questions.

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