Labouring on the Fourth Estate
Much troubled water has flowed these past few weeks under the bridges linking the press and the public.
The President of the Media Association claims the government and ruling party are out to collectively punish the entire local press - through him. Ditto the best-known daily afternoon English-speaking talk show host on island.
Each made strong allegations without even the weakest supportive evidence. Both took umbrage to being asked to apologize for saying what they could not prove and each garnered some sympathy, based more on the loudness of their cries than the visibility of any inflicted occupational wounds.
Goalposts continue to be moved by those playing football in, and with, the press. Definitions of Press Freedom and Freedom of Speech continue to vary according to need, interpreted more as Freedoms to Do and Say Anything than as valued freedoms to be exercised with due care and responsibly.
As in every Election Year, political battle lines have again been drawn over press issues not worth a fight. Just when people started calling on the media here to start to play a median role in the lead-up to what it continues to remind us is a very crucial poll, the usual players started gaming in the name of the supposed silly season.
Media people who refuse to read or understand local press laws continue to fowl-up big time on- and off-air, saying and doing things that reveal a sorry lack of appreciation of the similarities and differences between libel, slander and defamation, between sub-judice and contempt of court. They also erroneously believe that the First Amendment of the US Constitution can come to their constitutional defense in a local court.
The pontificators of purity want to have their cake and eat it. They keep breaking the law and spitting in the face of their own claims to impartiality by declaring war on a government and ruling party they claim is unfairly preventing them from hauling its feet over the coals. But nowhere is the role of the press only about keeping its eyes on governments and politicians.
Those guided by that misleading belief always end up begging and looking for trouble, then appealing for help when it comes. They throw stones first, then complain about disproportionate response when legal ballistic missiles come flying their way. They try to assassinate characters with blank shots - and expect the attacked to be generous, tempered and forgiving in response. They blindly accuse perceived unhelping hands of selling out. And those who dare say they have no reason to feel threatened by any government are termed Judases.
I have always defended my right to work without my political affiliations being held against me. I am always seen, heard and treated differently by successive nomadic journeymen laying transit claim to landlordism over the local Fourth Estate. But I have survived them all. They start battles they cannot fight and wars they simply cannot win. They patently ignore socioeconomic factors that matter most to most - and feel quite at home sizzling in the sauciness of finger-pointing about rape and suicide, child pregnancy, sex offender registers, evil spirits, obeah and voodoo. They discourage youth from wanting to become politicians, but (publicly) behave in ways that encourage no one to want to become even a farm labourer on the Fourth Estate.
For the media association here today to be anything to its members, it must become more than just a mutual admiration club. It must serve all its members all the time. It must not be so selective in what and whose causes it chooses to stand for and when. Its members must feel they belong to something worth their while. They must want to attend its meetings. Those who are not members should be made to wish they were.
But I do not get the impression that the association today is one that any more than its present membership would regret they were not yet associated with.
Perhaps they have not been given reason to want to be made to feel guilty by association? Lucia H. Best
More and more people are joining the impassioned debate about how the SLP administration has discarded its pretty-face mask to intimidate the perceived unfriendly media personnel. The not so secret bee in their red bonnets is that there’s “too much UWP” in the news. That, despite that the party has its own shows on radio and TV, and I’m not referring to NTN and RSL.
Clearly the ongoing tension between the SLP administration and the local media does not make for a healthy democracy. Considering all that is already ongoing under this administration, in terms of IMPACS, sanctions under the Leahy Law, allegations of extrajudicial killings, Human Rights violations and the like, the last thing Helen needs right now is a new scar on her face.
Sadly the public has just seen another week go by without the smallest attempts at arriving at mediation and reconciliation. If anything, perhaps all the watchful electorate has seen are increasingly unhelpful signs of paranoia on the part of party hacks.
Can there not be a meeting of both sides to seek to bring all the existing issues to the table by engaging in constructive dialogue? Lawsuits, war of words, mistrust and obvious political immaturity demonstrated by some public officials have been the order of the day. Meanwhile more and more local incumbents are looking like bullies.
It has long been said that the media and politicians make strange bedfellows. In 1997 Dr. Kenny Anthony was not deterred by such words of practical wisdom. He was the evergracious host of many media cocktails, rubbing shoulders with them whilst sipping libations in an easygoing atmosphere.
Perhaps at the time he was having some feeling or vestige of gratitude towards the media for its contribution to his party’s landslide 16–1 victory against the United Workers Party. It may also have been as a result of being very chummy with the media that the Labour Party bought into the belief that the news media can either make you or break you. Did they learn too much about media workings at those cocktails? Meanwhile politicians remain at liberty to correct anything they believe was unfairly reported about them.
There is always room for the public to accept or reject information. The same news audience that the media may “mislead” also freely consumes information from other sources such as In Touch and The Red Zone, unashamedly red. Brainwashing can never thrive in a democracy and is not at the core of this media/SLP quarrel. The troubling accusation that the media is not being fair and balanced really has no merit.
Yes, the media influences politics and political behaviour, in Saint Lucia and elsewhere. A free press is not automatically an irresponsible press. The media has no control over how people process the information that comes at them. People are free to decide for themselves between what they read and what they see.
This is an era of “news you can choose.” People have at their disposal, as never before, several options for informing themselves. They don’t really need the news to know what is happening. The traditional media is itself under pressure to keep its relevance with the advent of new media. Let’s hope the disgruntled politicians get an eye–opener of how powerful is the reach, speed and influence of new media especially in the case of social media.
Has the SLP administration understood the sheer power to Share, Like and Vent on one’s pages where hundreds or thousands view up to the minute; including family and friends who follow? This is the real power. Politicians should keep in mind that there is access to millions of apps and other platforms that people now utilize.
If politicians want the traditional media to report to suit them, then how will they (politicians) get social media to comply with the same expectation?
It is therefore reasonable to think that should our learned politicians hold any anxiety or worry whatsoever towards media reporting, then their concern should rest with social media. When it comes to traditional responsible media reporting - television, newspaper and radio - they should discontinue being driven by their baseless and irrational fears, associated with the so– called “silly seaon”.
Media workers association executive seen here last week strategizing ahead of a planned extraordinary meeting scheduled for this Sunday April 24 to discuss the current media climate.