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Avoiding the media

During a lunch time lecture at the Tom Adams Financial Centre in March, veteran journalist and Editor Emeritus of the Nation newspaper, Harold Hoyte, was very critical of a number of the practices of journalists and media organisations in Barbados.

In essence, he concluded that the standards of today’s practitioners and the organisations for which they work too often fall well below those of past stalwarts of the profession.

Generally, we agreed with him then, and we still do; but we also again make the point that the environment within which the craft of journalism is practised is not at all enabling. The end result is that the country is not as well served as it could be when it comes to the dissemination of information relevant to the strengthening of our democracy.

We continue to hold strongly to the view that by their very conduct, our political leaders are not only afraid to engage the public and by extension the Press, but they deliberately set out on a path to, at best, withhold information, and at worst, mislead.

Barbados’ journalists are expected by their audiences to function like, and produce comparable results to, their United States counterparts, while operating against the backdrop of an outdated and inadequate Defamation Act, and the total absence of any freedom of information legislation.

For the enterprising journalist, you probe at your own risk!

Add to the mix the fact that we have a growing class of business people, particularly the more wealthy, who are all for probing journalism if it does not mash their corns — real or imagined. They welcome your questions when they are about a competitor or social enemy, but hint at anything involving their sacred cows and see how quickly they can threaten to withdraw advertising.

All across Barbados this aversion to engage the media in anything but naked public relations has become so ridiculous that we now have the Barbados Government Information Service sending out press releases referring to “exclusive interviews” with ministers and public servants.

What is the source of this apparent fear of being questioned by professional journalists?

Here’s another example. Last Friday the National Union of Public Workers raised the issue of workers from the Drainage Division not being paid, and threatened industrial action. On Tuesday the union announced that it would have marched on Government Headquarters today if it did not get word that the workers would be paid.

In the midst of all this, the environment was saturated with “rumours”, including the very frightening possibility that the Government had no money to pay the workers. In the current climate one could easily understand how such a rumour could gain currency.

So how did the line minister respond? With a lengthy public relations “story” issued via the BGIS. No leeway for questioning by the media.

Now contrast that with the routine in Trinidad and Tobago, where there is modern defamation and freedom of information legislation and a history of robust press engagement by the government. Just yesterday Trinidad’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar engaged the press to answer questions that her government was using state advertising to reward and/or punish media houses.

That would never have happened in Barbados. We would have gotten a well sanitised PR statement via BGIS or absolutely no response — with the latter being far more likely.

It is true that in Barbados we have not yet produced any journalists who would qualify for sainthood, and that over the last three decades we have had far too many practitioners who wore their political colours on their sleeves, but there can be no denying our profession has provided a valuable service to the country.

Our journalists and media organisations must do better, yes, but those in power who have control over the mechanisms that facilitate the media need to do the right thing as well.

2 Responses to Avoiding the media

  1. Tony Webster May 3, 2013 at 7:25 am

    I recall the greats of journalism of yesteryear, (Holder, Cozier and several others- including the said Ed.Emeritus himself) and can validate what Mr. Hoyte says. However, the environment has significantly changed. Previously, and especially in the case of the printed page, the daily press was as essential as our morning cup of tea: one was guided and educated by the editorials; informed by a rich palette of news; and entertained by wide contributions from a cultural menu. All part of the critical process of forming useful citizens out of “clay”.

    The wider media environment changed forever with the arrival of “Brass tacks” and “Tell it like it is”. While of a different delivery channel- and flavour- this was still journalism…with a potent sting in the tail, to bring eggregious behaviour (both public and private) back into line!

    Change has continued, and the wider internet and social media, now simultaneously offer a delectable feast to vast expanse of “customers”; a vastly enriched opportunity for every “connected” citizen to now both contribute, and to “consume”. And unfortunatley, a bitter cup to the the Press editors and publishers, who must be scrambling to harvest declining ad revenue and keep the presses turning. True, there is a lot of garbage being presented on the web; factoids masquerading as fact; opinions sans any justification; and a welter of noxious gargage which we strive to shield our kids from. However, the tide (like Thatcher) is not for turning, and we must bravely and resolutely face the slings, arrows,- and opportunities – of the New Media. We now have to encourage good citizens to contribute to the work of the “New Journalism”, and to somehow make this a part of the daily lives of our young people, so that they will continue to be enriched, guided, and shaped into fine citizens, with the spirit and character and ability to ensure the future of our country. We owe this to those who served with great distinction in journalism, when they rose to defend not just Press Freedom, but freedom itself. Thank you Gladstone, Jimmy, Clennel, et al. And hey! Tip de hat also to The said ‘meritus ‘arold, (whose pen remaineth full) and the New Boy pun de block…BeeTeeDotBeeBee.

  2. Paula-Anne Moore May 3, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I shan’t comment on our archaic anti-defamatory legislation (other than to describe them as such) nor shall I mourn the articulate prose of Messrs Holder, Wickham et al, as others more learned than I have spoken eloquently on these subjects.

    I should just wish to reiterate my concern re falling standards relating to basic English grammar, the latter of which should be a given in journalism. The use of the first person in reporting, the use of ‘green’ verbs/dialect in reporting… These are becoming the norm rather than the exception. And the sensitivity (or lack thereof) of photos at funerals and scenes of death… These I mourn…


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