In the next few days Barbados Free Press will try to find time to comment in detail upon the story of how Brass Tacks radio show journalist David Ellis is being pummeled by government and abandoned by his own Voice of Barbados organisation and the rest of the frightened lapdog Barbados media.
For now, the international investment community and watchdog agencies like Transparency International, Reporters Without Borders and anti-money-laundering agencies in the United States and the U.K. should be aware of the following…
In a full 2-page spread today that can only be described as a total capitulation to government pressure, the Nation News ignores the important issue of Where Did Minister Lynch Get His Millions?
Since when is it private when a member of government exhibits far more wealth than is reasonable considering his salary? Minister Lynch dispenses millions upon millions of dollars with no tenders or accountability and the public is not allowed to ask where he got his millions?
That is an interesting position by The Nation News.
In the article (copied below), journalist Roy Morris gives some indication of the constraints and fear under which Bajan journalists operate, but former Nation News editor and head lapdog Harold Hoyte rolls over and does “good doggy” tricks in support of Minister Lynch – calling Brass Tacks journalist David Ellis “reckless” for daring to ask the Minister to account for his wealth. Hoyte even calls Minister Lynch “accountable” when he knows that there are no Conflict of Interest, Transparency, Freedom of Information or Accountability laws in Barbados.
Robert Best talks about how journalists become “pariah” if they ask embarrassing questions (editor’s note: Questions like… How is it that you had nothing before being elected and now you are a millionaire? ! ) while former DLP MP Branford Taitt rightly says “… a question about a minister’s financial circumstances is legitimate.”
Retired MP Sir Henry Forde poo-pooed the whole thing – once again ignoring questions of public accountability.
We will now show the setup of The Nation News 2 page spread so you can judge for yourself whether or not the Barbados media is intimidated by the government. Touch the photos to view the full size scans, or read the text from the Nation News website below…
The big question
by ROY R. MORRIS
YOU MAY NOT AGREE with what he says from time to time, but no fair-minded or reasonable person can claim that Minister of Tourism Noel Lynch is ever afraid to defend any stance he or his party takes.
In fact, more than a few practising journalists can confirm that you don’t have to initiate a conversation with Lynch when he feels strongly about a matter.
He is known to be very proactive in letting you know how he feels.
This is in stark contrast to a number of his colleagues. Note here that identifying this approach as one of Lynch’s personality highlights is intended neither as a criticism nor support of his approach. It is merely aimed at setting the stage for discussion of last weekend’s episode on Starcom Network’s Sunday Brass Tacks programme when Lynch objected to a question sent to the studio by email and read on air by host David Ellis.
The email, which questioned Lynch’s accumulation of assets, was deemed by the minister to be “as disrespectful as you can get”.
The minister ended the programme by walking out of the studio.
Lawyers have since concluded that innuendo contained in the email was sufficient that the minister could possibly successfully sue the station for defamation. The law is clear on the issue of redress where a defamation occurs, and there is therefore no need to consider that here.
However, the critical question is one which dominated discussion all around the country long before defamation entered the picture. It is: Was questioning the minister on the subject out of place in that forum?
Put in a broader context: Is there ever a time when questioning a public figure, on any matter that a journalist may deem to be in the public’s interest, is out of place – even rude?
This is also asked in the context of a growing tendency among public figures to call Press conferences, attend official functions, and state up front that they will only entertain questions of a particular nature; or conversely, will not take questions on a specific subject. This can be viewed as a proactive way of avoiding questions on a controversial matter.
And to widen the discussion further, would it be inappropriate, for example, question the Minister of Finance about a fiscal policy announcement if a journalist made contact with him after a funeral of a constituent?
What if it were a matter about his personal conduct and the opportunity presented itself while he was addressing a major financial subject?
Some years ago when United States President Bill Clinton was in Barbados having major talks with regional leaders, a member of the American Press corps fired a question at him about the then on-going scandal about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. While it raised eyebrows here it was taken as par for the course in the United States for a very simple reason:
The US has long, as a result of numerous rulings by that country’s Supreme Court, created clear definitions of who are public figures and who are private people. The court has made it absolutely clear that people like Clinton and Lynch, in their jurisdiction, would be classified as all-purpose public figures – “persons who occupy persuasive power and influence in the nation or in a community, persons who are usually exposed to constant media attention”.
Such a person is fair game wherever he or she is — laws on defamation notwithstanding.
The Commonwealth approach, however, tends to be much more conservative.
I come down on the American side: Once a question is respectfully framed, and you are cognisant of the circumstances surrounding the reason for a public figure [not just politicians] being there – if the matter is of public interest, the question should be asked. It is up to the public figure to decide if or how he will answer it. And for that he or she too should be respected. My only fault with the Lynch/Ellis affair is that the question was not properly, or perhaps fairly, framed.
When queries cross the line
HAROLD HOYTE: As a journalist I am relieved that my colleague David Ellis, a man of ability, experience and savvy, had the decency to publicly apologise to his radio guest Minister Noel Lynch.
Some other journalists are wrongly of the view that all politicians are fair game and we have the right to ask anything of any of them at any time, and if they don’t answer, that they should be ridiculed for appearing to avoid the truth.
We have to abide by our own set of high standards of conduct.
The facts are that Mr Lynch went on the programme as Minister of Tourism to explain special outcomes related to Cricket World Cup and his ministry. This is a matter of public interest and he is to be applauded for his accessibility, since not all of his colleagues are inclined to have the same sense of public accountability.
As a guest of Ellis, Lynch had the right to expect reasonable professional courtesies from his host. And this would have included not startling him with a rude question that bore no relation to the issue being discussed, framed in a highly insulting manner.
In my view, the language and the nature of the question crossed the line.
It was out of place to surprise Lynch with a speculative personal question (and one certainly not connected with the World Cup) which raised a matter that may have questioned his integrity, was not relevant to any matter under discussion or to be discussed, and which was not supported by even the flimsiest piece of hard data or information.
Journalists play an important role which shapes public opinion. When we carry out such an important mandate, we must do it with every aspect of responsibility. Since we can impact the good name of people in public life, we cannot be reckless with our words or be barren of accurate information in pursuing our line of questioning or comments.
In real estate, the big phrase is “location, location, location”. In journalism it is “substantiate, substantiate, substantiate”.
By coming out of nowhere to embarrass Lynch with an irrelevant, suggestive and personal question meant that Ellis fell far short of his own heretofore high sense of vocational dignity.
Respect, Mr Ellis, is a two-way street.
If journalists want respect they must be prepared to warrant it through professional conduct.
Branford Taitt: There is a boundary
Former Democratic Labour Party MP Branford Taitt, who has attracted much controversy during his years in the House of Assembly, believes that “a legitimate question can be unfair when asked in certain circumstances”.
“There is a boundary within which a public figure has a personal soul which must not be trammelled by the Press,” Taitt said, giving as an example a reporter encroaching on a personal event such as a funeral.
“Had I been Ellis, I would have asked the question, but I would have phrased it differently. And had I been Lynch I would also have responded differently, particularly because when you go on a radio call-in programme you have to be prepared for anything, any type of question . . . but on the face of it a question about a minister’s financial circumstances is legitimate.”
Sir Henry Forde: Do not take pot shots
Another retired veteran MP, and respected attorney-at-law, Sir Henry Forde, believes he would have handled the question differently, but noted that Lynch’s response might have been a reflection of his experience.
Sir Henry recalled an incident soon after he was first elected to the House when he was questioned about rumours that he was born in the almshouse.
“My answer . . . was, as my mother said, if you were born in the almshouse and you have got to this stage, you know how many mothers would be proud of you? I went on to say, ‘Well anyhow, for the record, I was born at a home in Water Street . . . and I did not even have the privilege of going to the almshouse here there was public care.”
Sir Henry added on the Lynch episode: “If I was there I probably would not have walked out . . . but my way of dealing with that would have been to say, Mr Ellis, the question is a very interesting one but it comes from a person with a warped mind . . . .
“Because you are a public figure you are always there for questions, but it depends on the nature of the questions and how the questions are framed . . . . Although there has been a swing toward allowing people to go after public figures . . . the courts have made it absolutely clear that freedom of speech does not mean that you can just take pot shots at people . . . .
“[Some] people thought the question was offensive . . . . A lot of people have not interpreted it as a complimentary question . . . . Noel got angry and walked out . . . . Different people would have dealt with it differently.”
Is it a need-to-know basis?
ROBERT BEST: Journalists in our part of the world have to choose our ground carefully when putting questions to people in public life. For a start, the wider public itself, even when talking about the right to know, does not always agree about what it should know.
Because of this tendency, we will find that what in some democratic countries will come over as merely routine questions, will strike many Barbadians as being in bad taste, even if not grounds for a lawsuit.
It is hard to imagine, for example, that a journalist in Barbados daring to question a public figure about his sex life would find favour with his countrymen even when such questions might be making the rounds on the cocktail circuit. It is just not done here, but is accepted in other jurisdictions to the extent that certain revelations can cause resignations by those in high office.
At the same time, the politicians, aware of how the public thinks on certain matters, do not rush to provide certain information on matters which would be regarded as “of public interest” in other countries.
It can reach the point where because of political association or party preference, a journalist can find he or she is treated like a pariah because of a tendency “to be always asking embarrassing questions”.
We do not stop to think why the question might appear to be embarrassing. In order to survive as journalists, many in the profession soon get the message and become conduits for public relations exercises and stop right there.
… read the article online at The Nation News (link here)