Peter Simmons Says: How Dare Citizens Question Government Without The Correct Information! (And No, Citizens Are Not Allowed To Know Government Information You Stupid People!)
In today’s Nation News, activist and former diplomat Peter Simmons authors an interesting article about talk shows – interesting only as far as it goes and more for what he doesn’t say. He had the start of an excellent piece, but he just couldn’t bring himself to take the story to the obvious conclusion.
Neither did Simmons include the impact of blogs in the story which would have been a natural had the article been published in another country where the media is not so tightly controlled by the government.
Peter Simmons’ article comes across as rather conflicted – probably like the man himself. He has been vocal in the fight against placing the proposed Caribbean Splash Waterpark in the Graeme Hall watershed despite the fact that his old friend the Prime Minister approved the water park in secret meetings with the American developer Matthew Kerins. Even in today’s article, Peter Simmons calls the water park an “abomination” – maintaining a position that is distinctly at odds with those Bajan political and business elites who will make huge personal dollars if public efforts to have a Graeme Hall National Park fail.
Yet for all his good work at Graeme Hall, Peter Simmons cannot shed his elitist attitudes about the government keeping information secret from the citizens of Barbados.
Being a former diplomat representing the government of Barbados, as well as the brother of Chief Justice (and former Attorney General) Sir David Simmons, Peter Simmons is obviously well connected. By virtue of family and old friendships he is still privy to inside information that ordinary folks aren’t allowed to know in a stratified society like Barbados where government insiders regularly profit from restricting citizens’ access to information.
Peter Simmons’ theme in his article is that people have to be careful of the information that callers sometimes spout as gospel because it is often incorrect – either by accident or because of an intent of the caller to spread wrong information for political gain.
That is all true, although if Mr. Simmons had been entirely honest with himself and his readers he would have mentioned that the government is often a major player at spreading information and disinformation for political gain and that the Barbados media is often – even daily – nothing more than a government mouth piece.
After establishing that callers sometimes provide wrong information, Mr. Simmons then cites various examples where talk show hosts, Ministers of Government and he himself have had to take to the media to provide the “correct” information to citizens.
But in detailing these stories, Peter Simmons gives a unique glimpse into the minds of those elites who believe that citizens have no right to information unless government chooses to dispense it – for in examples cited by Simmons the information at issue is something that citizens in truly democratic countries have access to by rights established with Freedom of Information laws.
Barbados has no freedom of information laws.
Even members of the opposition are often unable to gain access to everyday information. The concealment and misuse of what should be public information is a foundation of the current government’s power. That is why in 14 years of majority government, strongman Owen Arthur and his gang have never even considered Freedom of Information laws that would give citizens access to information that their tax dollars paid for.
Peter Simmons proudly gives an example of Environment Minister Liz Thompson coming on the air to clear up a misstatement by a caller over the price of the new trams at Harrison’s Cave – but he totally misses the point. That information should have been freely available to all citizens along with all other details of the work being done at Harrison’s Cave: Who has the contracts? How much is being paid for what work? Are any of the contractors in any way associated with government members or their families? Were the contracts put out to tender? IF there were open bids (and that is a big IF around this corrupt place) what were those bids and the scope of work?
Peter Simmons shows that as a connected elite, he too believes that information collected on behalf of Barbados citizens can be withheld or dispensed by government at will – like the unaccountable dictatorship that our Barbados government has truly become.
Speaking Of King Arthur – He’s Paying HOW MUCH For A Hotel Room? !!!!!!!!!!!
Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur is in New York City and will be addressing the United Nations tomorrow, on Monday, September 24, 2007.
How Much Is Owen’s Hotel Charge?
Sources say that the bill for Strongman Owen Arthur’s hotel suite is US$15,000 per night.
Yup… that’s right folks. Fifteen thousand U.S. dollars per night.
Detailed expense accounts for all elected members should be available to citizens. It is our money.
Mr. Prime Minister: Publish your expense accounts on line to be seen by all citizens or SHUT UP about transparency and responsible government.
From The Nation News (link here)…
GUEST COLUMN: The role of talk radio
Published on: 9/23/07.
BY PETER SIMMONS
TALK RADIO, such as our call-in programmes, is the fastest growing segment of broadcast journalism in democratic societies worldwide. Their popularity and pervasive influence have made them an invaluable component of our post-Independence democratic architecture.
They have become “the peoples’ Parliament”, a platform for the “voiceless” from which the average Barbadian and some non-nationals can air their views through a free phone call, if they can get past the busy signal.
Their influence is daily demonstrated on national and parochial issues. Example: My friend “Poo” Franklyn was calling the relevant authorities for months to report that a fallen bus stop in his neighbourhood was creating problems.
No action. A call to the Monday morning programme and by midday Tuesday the pole was erect again. Six months of frustration ended by ventilating the problem on air.
Through the years, I have never had any doubts about the overarching influence of these programmes and the good that they can do.
I called during my years as a political activist. I also called as a High Commissioner to share information with the taxpayers who paid my salary, once to clear the air on accusations made against a preeminent Barbadian by a British gold-digger.
More recently, I have used the call-in programmes to carry the fight to those promoting the abomination of a water park at Graeme Hall where I live.
I write, therefore, from an empirical base as a long-standing, avid listener and occasional contributor, and wish to reflect here on two recent happenings representing the good and bad of talk radio.
A caller with a distinctly non-Barbadian accent, made serious allegations against staff of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) on CBC’s Talk Yuh Talk programme. The moderator Sidney Simmons (no relation) asked her a number of searching questions which were unsatisfactorily answered.
Committed to discovering the truth, he went in person to the QEH, presented the allegations to the staff and got the facts. Sadly, they bore no relation to the comments made by the caller.
The next day he put the record straight on air.
This novel approach raised the bar for moderators, and Sidney deserves our collective kudos in what represented both the good and bad of the call-ins and puts the spotlight on callers and moderators.
Moderating a call-in cannot be easy. I recall the late Oliver Jackman, one of the most self-confident Barbadians I ever met, saying that a short stint on Guttaperk caused loss of sleep wondering what curveballs he would have to face next day.
Generally, our moderators do a good job. Indeed, at least two of them would hold their own anywhere. Some are recognised as serious opinion-shapers and treated with the reverence of Sparrow – “if he say so, is so”.
However, too often in recent times, some moderators have come across as using the airwaves as bully pulpits; some curt and cantankerous, others hectoring and prosecutorial, some seeming know-alls unwilling to hear callers out and hurrying them off the air.
A recent exchange between a Cabinet minister and a moderator labelled “a politician”, to the latter’s considerable amusement, was instructive. Was the minister strengthened in his conviction by the way the moderator had earlier hurried two well-known BLP callers off the air?
Lest they forget, these are the callers’ programmes. Stop them if they cross the crease of acceptable comment or deliberately try to peddle misleading information. Listening and constructive interaction make for better radio than being subjected to a tiresome soliloquy by moderators or callers.
Those were the qualities buttressed by the fine art of cutting a caller’s throat with a feather which made Andrew Hatch our moderator emeritus.
A challenging down side is the overbearing and repetitive political drivel polluting the programmes daily and turning off listeners. Last week a prolific caller lamented that “$12.5 million of the taxpayers money” had been spent by Government buying six new trams for the retrofitted Harrison’s Cave.
The moderator, clearly skeptical and in search of the truth, promised to investigate. The caller was adamant. Not only were the figures given by the Minister of the Environment, they were given on the floor of the House of Assembly, he alleged.
Minister of the Environment Elizabeth Thompson quickly and commendably came on the air and gave a full rebuttal of the caller’s claim pointing out that the trams cost just over $5 million. She also sent the full facts and figures to the moderator, the entire exercise worthy of emulation.
The dangerous mischief implicit in what this self-proclaimed political operative put abroad, was not just that he had misled the listening public but, no less serious, that the minister had misled the House. Catspraddled by the facts, he never called to apologise.
When the smell of paint on the ballot boxes is in the air, there is increased pressure on moderators. How they keep deliberate mischief off the airwaves and maintain their impartiality will be the litmus test of their acquired skills and one of the best guarantees of the fairness and sustainability of talk radio.