WEEKLY LEAKS SYN­DROME!

FIRST IT WAS EBOLA . . . THEN IT WAS THE KILLA ZIKA MOS­QUITO . . . NOW IT’S

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rick Wayne

Sev­eral weeks ago I took a call from an At­lantabased Looshan friend. He wanted to know what was so ex­tra­or­di­nary about a par­tic­u­lar late-evening event that it had dragged me away from my “end­less hi­ber­na­tion.” Like most lo­cal dis­pensers of may pwis, my friend quite ob­vi­ously has a pen­chant for hy­per­bole. (You can take the man out of the coun­try . . . ) At first I pre­tended he’d been mis­in­formed, that I had spent the day in ques­tion, and a good part of the evening, writ­ing a story for this news­pa­per.

He would have none of that. He as­sured me he had in­dis­putable proof (a lo­cal eu­phemism for gos­sip!) of my pres­ence at a par­tic­u­lar ho­tel on a par­tic­u­lar evening. No, he did not have a photograph; he had some­thing bet­ter: a men­tal im­age. Cluck­ing like a chicken that has just laid an egg, he pro­ceeded to pro­vide de­tails of what I’d worn to the event, down to my beige tie which his eyes on the ground had be­held as yel­low—and the pre­cise mo­ment I left the venue’s ball­room for a pit stop at the pis­soir.

Notwith­stand­ing my faux protes­ta­tions, my friend was on the but­ton. I couldn’t help but won­der who had been his source and why I had been paid such close at­ten­tion more de­serv­ing of the evening’s speaker. There had been ab­so­lutely no one else in the vicin­ity while I was us­ing the ho­tel’s uri­nal. Some­thing else con­cerned me. I mean, I knew leak­ing pa­pers had all but re­placed cock fight­ing as our most pop­u­lar se­cret sport . . . but leak­ing a leak?

Now don’t un­der­stand me too quickly: I’ve al­ways shared Theodore Roo­sevelt’s view that the ci­ti­zen’s first duty is to en­sure, by what­ever means nec­es­sary, good gover­nance. And since some pub­lic ser­vants are as close to gov­ern­ment as, to bor­row a Nor­man Mailer line—as close as a crab louse to the con­ceiv­ing of a child!— why shouldn’t they ex­pose via the me­dia what they, as model cit­i­zens, con­sider in­im­i­cal to the na­tion’s best in­ter­ests?

Dur­ing his in­ter­view on the fi­nal TALK of 2016, Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­ta­nent ref­er­enced the con­tro­ver­sial DSH project and the is­sue of leaked doc­u­ments, os­ten­si­bly by pub­lic ser­vants. I wasted no time re­mind­ing him that as a jour­nal­ist I was grate­ful to pub­lic sec­tor em­ploy­ees who, from time to time, and only in the pub­lic in­ter­est, had turned whis­tle blow­ers. As un­ac­count­able as have been suc­ces­sive Saint Lu­cian ad­min­is­tra­tions, I half-jok­ingly sug­gested spe­cial awards be handed con­cerned pub­lic ser­vants who sur­rep­ti­tiously pass on to the press in­for­ma­tion that elected of­fi­cials are du­ty­bound to re­lease to the pub­lic but sel­dom do.

A cur­sory glance at the Stand­ing Or­ders re­veals: “On ap­point­ment to the pub­lic ser­vice, ev­ery of­fi­cer whether per­ma­nent or tem­po­rary shall be re­quired to make and sub­scribe to the oath of or af­fir­ma­tion of se­crecy in the ap­proved form.”

There also is the rule that speaks against pub­lic of­fi­cers and em­ploy­ees pass­ing on to unau­tho­rized in­di­vid­u­als “in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to the busi­ness of the pub­lic ser­vice.” Also: “Con­fi­den­tial and se­cret cor­re­spon­dence and doc­u­ments shall al­ways be kept un­der lock and key and sep­a­rate from open cor­re­spon­dence and ma­te­rial.”

It is up to the pub­lic ser­vant, then, to de­cide which will be the heav­ier psy­chic bur­den: to break an oath or to per­mit his coun­try to go down the toi­let with­out set­ting off alarm bells. Then again, when was there ever a free lunch?

Jour­nal­ists are not re­quired to take oaths. But the self-re­spect­ing more se­ri­ous ones would rather spend time be­hind prison bars than fin­ger a re­li­able source. As I say, I could not have writ­ten my big­gest sto­ries with­out some­one be­tray­ing some­one else’s con­fi­dence—in­spis­sated truth, re­gard­less of how this may sound in some ears.

A source lit­er­ally places at enor­mous risk his life (liveli­hood?) and the lives of de­pen­dants when he hands to a jour­nal­ist of­fi­cial doc­u­ments en­trusted to his safe-keep­ing. My per­sonal style when­ever vul­ner­a­ble sources are in­volved is to re­veal nei­ther names nor the fact that I am quot­ing from a con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ment. Usu­ally, the ef­fect I’m after can be at­tained sim­ply by pub­lish­ing key facts—with a fac­toid or two to con­fuse the hounds. Not so long ago I threw out the bait that four Arabs had ar­rived here by pri­vate air­craft “all car­ry­ing Saint Lu­cian pass­ports,” al­though I knew full well that one of them had Le­banese pa­pers. The rats I planned to trap never went close to the cheese. But a rav­en­ous cock­roach did—alas with some­what con­tro­ver­sial, not to say re­gret­table re­sults.

I could’ve re­vealed from the on­set the iden­ti­ties of the pass­port hold­ers. But my in­ten­tion was to draw out cer­tain of­fi­cials, per­chance they would also ex­plain how the cited Arabs came by their Saint Lu­cia na­tion­al­ity when the CBI pro­gram was then not yet in ef­fect.

To this day I have not re­vealed the sources (yes, more than one) that had fur­nished the pa­pers that helped me bring to light the dis­turb­ing se­crets of Gryn­berg. Speak­ing of which re­minds me of the time I passed on a let­ter to an MP who then per­mit­ted him­self to be pro­voked into mak­ing it a doc­u­ment of the House, in the process ex­pos­ing and em­bar­rass­ing my source and turning me an an­gry shade of blue—even though there was noth­ing con­fi­den­tial about Dame Pear­lette’s let­ter to the then leader of the House op­po­si­tion.

Any other jour­nal­ist could for the ask­ing have ac­cessed it from the op­po­si­tion leader. But it might just as eas­ily have been a con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ment, trace­able to a par­tic­u­lar source. Which is why on the oc­ca­sion I pub­licly blew my stack. My great­est fear has al­ways been that through my own fault I should cause trust­ing past and fu­ture in­for­mants to lose faith in me.

For the most part, the doc­u­ments cur­rently be­ing dis­sem­i­nated on a weekly ba­sis hardly fall into the cat­e­gory of leaks, cer­tainly not in the sense as­so­ci­ated with the es­capades of a cer­tain prime min­is­ter with a school­girl not yet six­teen. Such as have been on so­cial me­dia for the past sev­eral weeks may have been re­leased to the pub­lic ear­lier than of­fi­cially sched­uled, but that’s just about it. The is­sues they rep­re­sent would have come be­fore parliament sooner or later. In­deed, I won­der how many who latch on to any­thing they hear, de­pend­ing on the per­ceived color of the trans­mit­ter, un­der­stand what’s read out to them, of­ten quite badly.

An­other pos­si­ble fly in the oint­ment: will pub­lic con­fi­dence in the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to keep their cor­re­spon­dence con­fi­den­tial be eroded by the seem­ingly un­stop­pable leaks?

But lest I be mis­un­der­stood—bet­ter to say con­ve­niently mis­quoted— per­mit me this rep­e­ti­tion: with­out sources the qual­ity of our work as jour­nal­ists would suf­fer greatly. And I speak not only of of­fi­cial doc­u­ments. We also de­pend on re­li­able sources to help us keep the na­tion in­formed and en­ter­tained—as Juk Bois would doubt­less at­test!

It was the leg­endary Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Wal­ter Lipp­mann who said: “There can be no higher law in jour­nal­ism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.” On the other hand that would not be pos­si­ble with­out the co­op­er­a­tion of right-think­ing cit­i­zens serv­ing as re­li­able sources.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.