We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: there is no room in a fair and just society for a thin skinned journalist or politician.
In the case of the journalist, our position is simple: since we strive so hard to be unfettered in our ability to place the lives of others under scrutiny, and with good reason, we cannot expect to escape the same level of scrutiny of the way we perform our duties.
The case of the politician is also quite simple, we believe. They are elected through public support and their every action and/or decision has the potential to impact countless lives: they can’t reasonably expect to operate in such a realm without the requisite scrutiny — and where necessary, criticism.
Unfortunately, much of what occurs around us every day suggests that in many respects we are neither fair nor just. Journalists and the organisations for which they work appear to want the right to examine and cross examine, but not to be cross examined. But we will return to this momentarily.
Just recently we made some comparisons between our way of conducting election campaigns and what is currently taking place in the United States in relation to the presidential election. We felt then, as we do now, that the US presidential debates, for all their weaknesses, serve the most useful purpose of exposing the plans, programmes and pronouncements of the candidates to public scrutiny — by the average Joe as well as the experts.
By comparison in Barbados, we have cultivated a system in which platforms are based on the criticism of the other side, while holding back your own agenda until a few days before polling to present it in a manifesto. The end result is that debate on the document tends to be very limited.
That’s why we were quite impressed last weekend when at his party’s annual conference Opposition Leader Owen Arthur presented his 15-point plan, and more, for the “restoration” of the Barbadian society. We sincerely hope that the Opposition Leader did not expect that his election offering was to be taken hook, line and sinker by the Barbadian public.
We hope that Arthur, having been in public life, and at the top of the pole for so long, would have understood that once he exposed his goods for public consumption they would have been tapped, poked, shaken, squeezed, smelt and whatever else to determine their fitness.
So we commend President of the Barbados Economic Society, Ryan Straughan, for his public assessment of the measures — and the fact that he did so without sinking to any personal criticism of the person who presented them. For the purpose of this article we are not concerned about whether Arthur’s proposals can work, or whether Straughan’s assessment amount to a practical response.
The important thing is that something that is so lacking in Barbados, debate of important political/fiscal matters, has begun and we hope that rumours of attacks on the goodly gentleman by persons who may not agree with his assessment of what was presented are exaggerated.
Barbados needs robust debate.
And back to debate by and of the media. We note a growing trend among media organisations in the region, and beyond, of crying foul whenever some public figure criticises a journalist or their employer. The most recent case was in Trinidad where an email from the communications minister to a newsroom manager at a television station has been labelled as a threat to media freedom.
We don’t know the details, but we do readily accept that Trinidad has the most robust media sector in the region and media workers practise their craft with a level of vigour not seen in Barbados, Jamaica or within the OECS sub-region.
If a politician believes that there is a pattern of behaviour by a media house that suggests it has an ulterior motive, right or wrong, he or she ought to have a right to say so, just as the media organisation ought always to have the right to tell him or her “You are wrong!”
But seeking to muzzle or label a politician simply because he criticises a media organisation because we have all set ourselves up as holy and above reproach, or scrutiny, may do more harm to freedom of the press than the original action which caused us fear in the first place.
Fortunately for the media organisation, it has the upper hand in that it has the instrument by which it can prosecute its case in the public domain — which is where the politician is most vulnerable in any event. It’s time to stop crying wolf every time someone says something about us we don’t like. How many times a day do journalists say things others in the society don’t like, whether justified or not, and they are expected to accept it as par for the course — in the public’s interest, the public has a right to know, it’s fair discussion etc? We can’t expect to eat our cake and have it too!