Should news media cooperate with the Barbados government to delay publishing news?

Barbados Free Press intends to print any news “embargoed” by the government.

by Nevermind Kurt

Last Saturday, November 6, 2010 in the wee hours of the morning, Barbados Free Press was the first to publish the news that gas, diesel and kerosene prices would be raised the following Sunday at midnight. (See BFP’s Breaking: Barbados gasoline, diesel, kerosene prices up Sunday night)

That story actually originated from the normal press releases posted on the internet at the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) media section on Friday, November 5, 2010 at about 6pm. (The composite image from the press release is above.)

Although the BGIS posted the story online in their press release section on Friday evening, they “Embargoed” the news for two days until “7pm Sunday November 7” – meaning that news outlets were requested by government to not carry the story until 7pm Sunday.

The regular Barbados news media obeyed the government and did not carry the news to the people until Sunday evening – even though Barbados Free Press printed the news very early Saturday morning.

I’d like to make some observations about this “special understanding” or “working relationship” between the ‘professional’ Barbados news media and the government that results in the news media intentionally withholding news from the public for days.

Please remember that I am not a journalist. I’ve never been a journalist and I’ve never worked in the news media. That means two things: there might be some things I don’t know about how journalism works, and on the other hand my opinions and perspectives are not biased towards protecting either the news media or the government. Here are my thoughts…

1. In this case the reason for the “news embargo” was so the BGIS personnel didn’t have to work on Sunday. Otherwise they could have released the news at 7pm Sunday night and not bothered with an “embargo”.

2. The news of a petroleum price increase mattered to many folks – especially those in the transportation business. Upon hearing that a price increase was coming, you can bet that anyone running a commercial vehicle headed for the filling station so they could save a few dollars. Some of those diesel tanks are huge!

3. You can bet that many folks at the BGIS and the news media filled up their cars too!

4. Those who had foreknowledge of the price increase were in a position to benefit monetarily compared with those who did not have foreknowledge.

5. The news media obeys the government embargo because if they don’t, the BGIS will penalize any offender by excluding them from both official and unofficial news releases. (That’s “press releases” and “leaks”)

6. The vast majority of content in the ‘professional’ news media comes from press releases or wire services, not from what normal folks think of as journalism or reporting. That’s why you sometimes see the same story printed almost verbatim in ‘professional’ news media in Barbados and around the world. The stories aren’t written by journalists, they are written by government or corporate information providers. Often the media prints the press releases as “news” word for word without crediting the government or corporate source and without comment, expanded information,  or even fact-checking.

7. This reliance upon press releases and wire services for content allows Barbados news media to be more profitable – employing fewer journalists and support staff. The inability to be included in BGIS press releases and leaks would be a serious threat to the viability of any Barbados professional news media. That’s why the Bajan news media obeyed the government and withheld the news of a gas price increase – to the detriment of the public.

8. This “special relationship” between the creators of the news (the government) and the distributors of the news (the news media) benefits the government and the professional news media, but is to the detriment of the general public.

9. The threat of being excluded from the government news (along with government advertising dollars) is often used by the government to control the news. At BFP we think back to the time that the blogs broke the story that Jonathan Lazlo Danos, President of Barbados flyover contractor 3S Structural Steel Solutions, was being sued for fraud and secret kickbacks on another government highway bridge project in Jamaica.

The lapdog Barbados news media withheld the news for almost two weeks until they were shamed into printing it – and even then they lied to the public. (See BFP’s article Nation News Shamed Into Reporting Fraud Allegations Against Barbados Flyover Contractor)

How much of that censorship and deceit by the Nation and the Barbados Advocate is because they are frightened to disturb their all-too-cosy relationship with the government news suppliers?

At BFP we believe that this cosy relationship between the BGIS and the “professional” news media is unhealthy in a free society and to the detriment of ordinary Bajans. So here’s what we intend to do about it.

Starting right now, whenever Barbados Free Press hears of “embargoed” news – we’re going to print it right away.

We call upon CBC, The Nation, The Barbados Advocate, VOB and the rest of the “professional” news media to be truthful with the people. Where the news media has complied with a government request to withhold news, we believe they should inform their audience that they have done so when they finally publish the news.

It’s called truth, integrity and duty to the public. If they have forgotten what the words mean, the “professional” news media should look them up.

Our thanks to BFP reader Nevermind Kurt who contributed a draft of this article and the story idea.

Here is the original government press release that is the subject of this article…

EMBARGOED UNTIL 7:00 P.M SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 7

PETROLEUM PRICES ON THE RISE

Barbadians will be paying slightly more for petroleum products in the next couple of days.

Effective midnight, Sunday, November 7, the retail price of gasoline, diesel and kerosene will be raised, in keeping with the landed price of petroleum products.

As a consequence, the retail price of gasoline will increase by seven cents, from $2.38 to $2.45; while the price of diesel and kerosene will jump by eight cents and will now be retailed at $2.23 and $1.45, respectively. (JW/BGIS)

Note how it is the same as the price increase announcement last September. “Slightly more” and “Slightly more” and “Slightly more” add up to a whole lot more! In case you don’t remember, gasoline has gone from $2.03 to $2.45 in 60 days. That “slightly more” is up 22% or so in two months if my math skills aren’t too rusty.

click image for large size

10 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Barbados News & Media, Corruption, Ethics, Freedom Of Information, Freedom Of The Press, Politics

10 responses to “Should news media cooperate with the Barbados government to delay publishing news?

  1. Pingback: Global Voices in English » Barbados: Government-Media Link

  2. Mac

    The press also kept quiet over Thompson’s illness, the CLICO mess, the travel advisory which you published on the 29th October but didn’t appear in the Nation till 7th November. Also silent is the amount of money borrowed by gov with no sign of provement anywhere.

    The press keep the secrets they are told to, Barbados Today less so. The Nation reports what they are told, there is no investigation or follow up with them, whether they are BLP or DLP the silence is gaurenteed. With CBC being state owned, again by whichever side, the party line is maintained. It’s only BFP & people who share what’s really going on. Much to the fear of the Establishment.

  3. John

    When does the Government actually tell the gas stations to change?

    How can they keep it quiet?

  4. what will they think of next

    This is the reason why I read Barbados Free Press. While the old media is very willing to censor the news at Government and Police request, Barbados Free Press respects the people’s right to know. Keep up the good work Barbados Free Press.

  5. David G. Brooks

    OT, I guess, but what of the Spying Controversy in the Trinidad … shocking discovery that the State’s Special Intelligence Agency (SIA) had been spying – illegally wire-tapping cell phones and landlines and intercepting text messages and emails – on private citizens and politicians, including the Prime Minister, for several years.

    Is it coincidence that this is uncovered right after the have a new non-national Commission of Police?.

    Is this the very reason why our authorities don’t want the same thing here, direct outside help with Policing, because of might be uncovered?

    Now, BFP (and Ian Bourne), this is good, relevant and important news material, why nothing here on this … it was in the papers since yesterday, or were we too busy bashing Owen, et al. ???

  6. David G. Brooks

    … PM stunned by the quality of housing … a [new] building code was ‘actively under consideration” … well, DUH, where has he been living in the last few years. So many people have been actively busting their hearts out pushing for this for at least 5-6 years, if not longer.

    Utter incompetence, and its not the politicians so much to blame but the civil service’s technocrats … Yes, Minister (and nothing gets done).

  7. BFP

    Hi David.

    Right you are, the illegal wiretapping is an important story and we’ve recently carried stories of it here. Robert said he’d write it up, but he’s late. Hey… how about you? Want to do a few paragraphs and give us your take? We’d appreciate it and it would be good to get another slant on the story. We’ll publish whatever you write verbatim.

    Clive

  8. He who knows

    As usual BFP your exuberance has gotten the better of you. Just in case you didn’t know before (and it doesn’t seem that you did) the practice of media houses being asked to embargo fuel price increases is nothing new. The age old logic behind it is to allow the gasoline stations the time to make the necessary transition and also to ensure that there is no mad rush to the gasoline stations ahead of the change. By the way, the embargo policy applies to both increases and decreases in the fuel prices. In other words your oft floated conspiracy theory does not apply in this case.

  9. David G. Brooks

    BFP: Sorry, that’s not my speed, besides I’m probably under surveillance anyway. 😉

  10. BFP

    Hi he who knows,

    EXACTLY!!!! You are correct. At the request of the government and in an effort to control the public, the news media keeps news from the public for days.

    The news media has the information days ahead. All the reporters fill up before the price change, as do their relatives.

    This brings two questions to mind:

    1/ How many “news embargoes” were issued and obeyed in the past two years about any subject?

    2/ In the case of the 3S Flyover scandal when the Barbados news media jointly kept the news secret from the public for almost two weeks, was this at the request of government, or a joint decision amongst the major Bajan news media?