Former Barbados Advocate Editor & Current Nation News Journalist Tells All
The controversy over Minister of Tourism Noel Lynch storming out of the Brass Tacks talk show studio and subsequent threats to journalist and radio host David Ellis has caused many in the Barbados media to think about the sad state of freedom of the press in our country. (Ellis read a listener’s email asking Minister Lynch to account for his personal wealth vs. his salary – see BFP’s Corruption Stories Being Hidden By Barbados Media & Government)
While Journalist David Ellis may have personal doubts and fears about what he did two Sundays ago, he should be aware that the people on the street and the vast majority of Bajan journalists consider him to be a hero. We certainly do.
Lawyer’s Gun Held To Journalist’s Head
David Ellis was forced to apologise with a lawyer’s gun held to his head – and if strongman Prime Minister Owen Arthur and Tourism Minister Noel Lynch think that pushing journalists around is approved by citizens of Barbados, they have another guess coming.
If strongman Owen Arthur and his gang think that this bullying will stop Bajans from asking how it is that they have become so wealthy while holding public office – they have another guess coming.
Government’s Bullying Drawing International Attention
The response by Minister Lynch and by his government is attracting international attention to the state of freedom and democracy in Barbados – and to the total absence of any laws protecting investors from corrupt government officials.
We have no Conflict of Interest and Integrity legislation. We have no Freedom Of Information laws or any way to hold corrupt government officials accountable. We have no laws that prevent or require our Prime Minister to account for personally receiving three quarters of a million dollars into his personal bank account.
Good Lord – we have a Minister of Government living on land that was expropriated from private ownership, and all sorts of government officials (elected and appointed) who regularly award government contracts without tender to friends, relatives and business partners. Foreign businessmen like American Matthew Kerins come to Barbados and are forced to spend US$2 million dollars for “consulting fees” (ha ha!) with no visible result. (see BFP’s Waterpark series here)
Barbados Media Lives In Fear Of Government
In the midst of all this corrupt political system, the print and broadcast journalists of Barbados have become like journalists working under other oppressive regimes – able only to slide in a word sideways, never able to ask even the basic questions for fear of government reprisal.
Barbados is a small island, and if Prime Minister Owen Arthur phones you up in a drunken rage in the middle of the night and says that you and your wife will never work again – he means it and he has the power to enforce it.
We have all had enough of the corruption and the strong arm threats. We have all had enough of living without that laws that ensure citizens’ rights to free speech and their ability to hold elected and appointed officials accountable.
Nation News Robert Best Stands Up For Freedom
No, Mr. Best isn’t able to say all the things that he wants to, and he had to slide some ideas in sideways, but his editorial in today’s Nation News goes about as far as he can. We wouldn’t be surprised if he also takes some heat for his honesty.
In our opinion, Mr. Best makes the following points…
– Barbados has a culture of not being able to talk about corruption by political or public servants.
– Barbados has a culture of “no transparency” in government.
– Sexual behaviour of politicians is “out of bounds” for reporters – even if it involves a man in a position of power having sex with his employees or someone over which he has authority.
– Barbados media is not “robust”. It is weak and lives in fear. Even in matters of corruption by high or low government officials, journalists are unable to do any “vigorous” investigative reporting for fear of reprisals.
– Barbados citizens do not understand how bad things are.
– Barbados journalists are, of course, aware of corruption stories – but outside of discussing them at cocktail parties, they are unable to report them for fear of our oppressive libel laws and courts.
– Government Ministers often script the questions at press conferences.
– Barbados has no Right To Information or Integrity legislation and that says much about our “democracy”.
– Journalists have no choice about changing the system and must accept it for what it is. When they are unable to report stories of corruption by political figures, they must “seek solace by leaving to the Lord those we believe are not behaving proper.”
What An Indictment Of The System!
We praise Robert Best for having the courage to speak out – but we take issue with his statements that our lack of freedom of the press and flawed democracy is somewhat because of our Caribbean “culture”.
This oppressive “culture” that he speaks of is one that is imposed and enforced by fear of government reprisal.
But that’s OK, Robert. We know that you could only go so far and put things in certain ways.
As far as we are concerned, Robert Best is a hero for writing what he did
Here is the full article by Robert Best as it appears in April 3, 2007 The Nation News (just in case they take it down)…
Best On Tuesday – The right to know
BY ROBERT BEST
THE RECENT INCIDENT involving Minister of Tourism Noel Lynch and a question raised in an email on the radio call-in programme Brass Tacks two Sundays ago, serves as a reminder that where Press freedom is concerned, it is different strokes for different folks.
For what listeners and readers do not understand where the media is involved, in a number of democratic countries where the Press is deemed to be free, the same rules do not apply for all nor are the “customs and mores” of the countries the same.
These differences in turn determine how Press freedom is interpreted and should be borne in mind when the Press in one country is compared with what another can achieve, especially in matters pertaining to transparency where governments and public servants are concerned.
For a start, what might be regarded in one nation or society as “a matter of public interest” might hardly raise an eyebrow in another, even when there are no religious differences and there is an embracing of the same moral concepts.
A good example of this is how politicians can find themselves coming under relentless scrutiny where their sex lives are concerned in countries like the United States and Britain as compared with what we accept in the English-speaking Caribbean.
It will be recalled that President Bill Clinton was literally “hounded” by the Press in the Monica Lewinsky matter until he finally was forced to admit, after strong denials, that he did have sexual relations with the woman, only to find that he was then faced with charges of lying earlier to the nation.
It is hard to imagine that journalists in our region would dare to openly question any top government official about any sexual indiscretions and find the society supporting such an approach. In our part of the world, that would be a matter for cocktail and drawing room gossip but not deemed “a matter of public interest”.
Cries would go up about invading the privacy of those concerned, particularly where it refers to “bedroom business”.
It is a big joke to think that any public servant would resign from office because he or she was known to be having an affair with a secretary or whoever. That is an area which the society has determined is out of bounds for our Press.
The same too applies to matters linked to corruption in high or low places. Whereas a robust Press in countries like Britain, whose Westminster model of government we say we follow, can put questions to public servants calculated to encourage transparency, and even more so in the United States, here in the Caribbean such questions could land one in hot water.
This is why when laymen in our region talk about the need for vigorous investigative reporting, we in the profession know that they really do not understand what the Press is up against as compared with what prevails in countries with which our activities in the newsroom are often compared.
Of course we whisper over drinks at cocktail parties about how so and so “is getting through” and we suspect that all might not be above board, but where can we go from there without opening up ourselves to the law courts and libel?
In many ways we are a society that does not enjoy answering questions, even when we do not have anything to hide. That is why “Question Time”, for example, is an important part of the activities in the British Parliament. Where we are concerned, we hardly take it that seriously. Even when we hold official Press conferences, we can find that requests might be made for questions to be submitted to the minister before we assemble for the conferences.
In this way the officials can decide beforehand what questions they are prepared to answer. The robust questioning that we see on TV by the overseas Press has no hope.
But then we have no Right To Information Bill. That says much about democracy as it is practised in some countries we admire and we have given all types of reasons why we must not have integrity laws. Once again we baulk at having people prying into our business and refuse to accept that once we go into public office, we must be prepared to accept that our business is in many ways everybody’s business once we are dealing with taxpayers’ money.
In some countries that approach is accepted but not in ours, and judging from what has developed in the Basdeo Panday case in Trinidad, we can bet that politicians in the region will take note and ensure to protect their wicket.
So too must the journalists, by knowing and accepting the wicket on which they are batting, for when it becomes too much, we too, like the society of good Christians that we are, can always seek solace by leaving to the Lord those we believe are not behaving proper.
… read the original article at The Nation News (link here)