The Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte had a way with art that often challenged predetermined perceptions of reality.
Mr Magritte’s most famous work, La trahison des images – French for The Treachery of Images (sometimes translated as The Treason of Images) – depicts a pipe below which he printed, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”, French for “This is not a pipe.”
Having been reproached for the title, he asked, “Could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!”
However, there is another interpretation – that often when reality strikes us in the face we choose to ignore it and see instead something that is not present or real.
How else can we explain the recent attacks on the media by the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP)?
At its most recent self-described FACTS conference, two DLP legislators – Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss and backbencher James Paul – led an onslaught on the media, presumably for publishing information that was not complimentary to the DLP.
It was Mr Inniss – the minister who receives a disproportionate amount of coverage in the media, most of it positive – who began the onslaught, which led one male supporter to heckle a journalist covering the event.
While he chastised the supporter, he did not stop his attack.
“I don’t care if you don’t like Donville Inniss, I don’t care if you don’t like Freundel Stuart, I don’t care if you don’t like the Democratic Labour Party . . . I say to you as journalists, you have a duty to act more responsibly,” he said to the baying of garrulous supporters.
The media have “a few individuals who really don’t give a darn” about Barbados or the Government, who believe the best thing they could achieve is to see the back of the DLP, he went on with the relish of a tricoteuse ; except that Mr Inniss and Mr Paul – as well Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett who had previously attacked Barbados TODAY – are not the knitting women of the guillotine. With the exception of Mr Paul they are ministers of Government to whom much has been given.
There is nothing more calculated to galvanize the support of worried supporters than the belligerent menaces of bumptious political leaders.
However, there is nothing more dangerous and threatening to freedom of the press than such calculated attacks on the media.
Clearly, the DLP parliamentarians are unhappy that the media are reporting that people are dissatisfied with their performance. Clearly they are frightened of losing their grip on power.
After all, in the Barbados of today we are living in, a brave new world of transparency and openness exists; one where people who object to Government’s actions and programmes are never referred to as enemies of the state.
All right, we are being facetious here.
However, there is no need for the administration to unleash a programme of priggish vindictiveness and joyless inquisition against the media for simply doing our job.
In a joint declaration on “fake news”, disinformation and propaganda issued on March 3 by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, the hemispheric and global bodies expressed alarm at instances in which public authorities denigrate, intimidate and threaten the media, including by stating that the media are “the opposition” or are “lying” and have a hidden political agenda.
“[This] increases the risk of threats and violence against journalists, undermines public trust and confidence in journalism as a public watchdog, and may mislead the public by blurring the lines between disinformation and media products containing independently verifiable facts,” they said.
This is what we are facing when political leaders choose to ignore the facts before them and instead, attack the media.
And for the supporters who egg them on, let’s be absolutely sure whose interests will be served if the media are rendered toothless. For, let there be no doubt, this is what these attacks are meant to achieve.
We are not yet at the point where we feel pressure to so censor ourselves that we become useless, nor are we are the point where we fear for our lives.
But there are journalists in countries as nearby as Mexico who live this reality. Those in countries facing millennial poverty, brutal dictatorship or murderous conflict value freedom of the press and understand that this freedom underpins civil order.
As the Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen once said, a free press stops famine.
For the sake of our democracy and the future of our country, we must not allow politicians to establish the modern day version of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth; or even more insidious, force the media into such a culture of fear and caution that the public interest is no longer served.
To suggest the media are enemies of the state because the administration does not like what we report is to miss the whole point.
What we do is give voice to the anxieties of Barbadians, and when we report that they are so unhappy with their representatives that they plan to stay home on election day, it is because this is what they think, how they feel, what they say.
The politicians may choose to ignore the message while they attempt to shoot the media. But this does not mean the anxieties, burdens and struggles of ordinary Barbadians are not real, except, possibly, in the minds of leaders such as Mr Inniss and company.
After all, this is not a pipe.