Labour gov­ern­ment no longer Me­dia Sweet­hearts?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Alexis B. Mont­go­mary

The lo­cal me­dia ap­pears to be the lat­est whip­ping boy to be tar­geted as the Saint Lu­cia Labour Party con­tin­ues to prac­tise tac­tics of ir­re­spon­si­bly shift­ing the blame of its fail­ures from en­tity to en­tity. Sev­eral gov­ern­ment min­is­ters in re­cent times have taken swings at the lo­cal me­dia be­cause of the un­favourable slant and con­tent of their re­ports, os­ten­si­bly to de­ter them from re­port­ing on mat­ters in a man­ner than will dam­age the rep­u­ta­tion of the na­tion. This late–in-the–day con­cern that the mem­bers of the gov­ern­ment are now con­ve­niently adopt­ing begs the ques­tion: why are they now so mind­ful of the im­pact that me­dia re­ports can have on Saint Lu­cia’s im­age? Or is the trou­bling truth the fact that those news re­ports seem to fre­quently catch the gov­ern­ment with its pants down, thereby plac­ing some politi­cians in a less than im­pres­sive light?

In­ter­est­ingly a high rank­ing Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, not too long ago, sought to make mileage at the ex­pense of the me­dia by at­tempt­ing to cre­ate a du­bi­ous and far–fetched con­nec­tion be­tween the for­mer NBC Nightly News an­chor Brian Wil­liams’ ly­ing de­ba­cle and the lo­cal me­dia’s cred­i­bil­ity. In quick time the lofty re­gard once held to­ward this min­is­ter in me­dia cir­cles and in the gen­eral public plum­meted as he was quickly ex­posed for his des­per­ate bid to di­vert at­ten­tion from key mat­ters of gov­er­nance with which the me­dia ac­costed him.

Af­ter this Par­lia­men­tar­ian’s pitiable at­tempt and, of course, fail­ure to dis­credit the va­lid­ity of news re­port­ing that ob­tains in the pri­vate me­dia, one would have thought that his col­leagues would have re­frained from at­tempt­ing to take sim­i­lar pot­shots but, once again, the mem­bers of this gov­ern­ment al­lowed them­selves to be­come en­gulfed by crass think­ing. The Min­is­ter for Home Af­fairs had a go at the me­dia and it ap­peared to have left me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers won­der­ing whether they worked for the gov­ern­ment’s pro­pa­ganda ma­chin­ery and whether they too weren’t en­ti­tled to the Right of As­so­ci­a­tion. Th­ese su­per­cil­ious and mis­placed com­ments came from per­haps the most em­bat­tled of min­is­ters in gov­ern­ment who has been un­able to clearly an­swer ques­tions on the IMPACS Re­port and the Lam­birds Academy scan­dal.

Also well known for not speak­ing out on press­ing ed­u­ca­tion mat­ters, an­other min­is­ter joined the fray when he was stalled by a per­sis­tent me­dia cast and quizzed about his min­istry’s level of due dili­gence, or the lack thereof, which may have con­trib­uted to the Lam­birds Academy scan­dal. The min­is­ter, with cam­era’s rolling, climbed upon his pul­pit to de­clare that neg­a­tive and spec­u­la­tive re­port­ing has far–reach­ing con­se­quences for the im­age of the coun­try. He coun­selled the me­dia to have some con­sid­er­a­tion for the rep­u­ta­tion of their own coun­try and, hav­ing suc­cess­fully evaded the sub­stan­tive ques­tion on Lam­birds, he must have felt rather pleased that he had nailed this en­counter with re­porters.

It is nec­es­sary to re­mind the gov­ern­ment of the day that its turn of the tide with the me­dia might be the sting of Karma. In­deed, this cur­rent ten­sion be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the me­dia was not al­ways the case. In 2011 (elec­tion year) the Saint Lu­cia Labour Party was the en­vied na­tional Me­dia Sweet­heart. It called weekly press con­fer­ences and some­times trumped up the press con­fer­ences of the other side (the UWP).

It re­quested sev­eral more in­ter­views than the Op­po­si­tion and was ac­com­mo­dated. It vied for valu­able air­time to lam­baste mainly the in­cum­bent United Work­ers Party and guess what? It was fa­cil­i­tated by nearly all of the me­dia houses on is­land at the time. Close ob­servers of me­dia news cov­er­age at the time were per­turbed by the sud­den de­par­ture from bal­anced re­port­ing on na­tional is­sues, in some sec­tions of the me­dia, to a more per­son­al­izeda­genda-driven news cov­er­age.

The pre–elec­tion news re­port­ing was glar­ingly slanted and of­ten did not in­clude a com­ment from the in­cum­bent. At the time the Labour Op­po­si­tion had no qualms with the salted-to-taste per­spec­tives that the me­dia car­ried be­cause they were pro­mot­ing, in­ad­ver­tently or not, the SLP’s agenda.

There is much disin­gen­u­ous­ness in the min­is­te­rial calls for re­gard to be given to the coun­try’s im­age. Over the 2010/2011 pe­riod of Labour’s cam­paign ram­page, the talk­ing points that it prop­a­gated were highly dam­ag­ing, not only to the coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion but also to the op­po­nents’ per­sonal im­age as well. Much of its reck­less rhetoric at the time openly ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of be­ing formed of rogues and rene­gades who had covertly plot­ted and car­ried out a plan that led to their leader’s demise. The insin­u­a­tions that there were in­di­vid­u­als in the then UWP gov­ern­ment who were so crim­i­nally tainted that in­vestors were fright­ened of com­ing to do busi­ness here, surely dam­aged Saint Lu­cia’s im­age in the long term. Since the harm­ful rhetoric went well be­yond our shores, to this day some big in­vestors are per­haps still dis­cour­aged to do busi­ness in Saint Lu­cia and so the coun­try re­mains starved of in­vest­ment even with this gov­ernemnt at the helm for three years now. Oh how things some­times boomerang.

Find­ing it­self on the thorny side of the news may have shocked a gov­ern­ment which re­gards it­self as in­fal­li­ble. The me­dia’s role is prob­a­bly fi­nally on the right course and they should con­tinue, de­spite any per­ceived gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence or in­tim­ida­tory tac­tics, to re­port with­out fear or favour on the non–ap­pear­ance of the much flaunted “Bet­ter Days Are Com­ing” prom­ise.

In re­cent months the lo­cal me­dia has be­come the

rul­ing Saint Lu­cia Labour Party’s punch­ing bag.

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