Labour­ing on the Fourth Es­tate

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

Earl Bous­quet

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.

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