The pages of a newspaper can be described as truly representing an open marketplace where information, opinion and ideas are freely exchanged and discussed by persons searching for solutions to common problems facing the community in which they live or have some connection with.
It is little wonder, therefore, that the media have often served throughout history, certainly in the period following Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, as the catalyst behind many significant societal changes which have occurred around the world.
Change generally occurs through the planting and the subsequent germination of ideas that capture the imagination of the general public. As Wilbur Schramm observed in a UNESCO study back in the early 1960s that examined the role of the media in national development, “it is generally the increasing flow of information that plants the seed of change.”
Contrary to common belief, the seeds of change do not necessarily have to be planted always by persons in positions of and power. Rather, it can occur sometimes through the efforts of an ordinary man or woman –– the so-called “salt of the earth” –– who feels sufficiently passionate about an idea and are motivated to share it with fellow citizens.
That is why we have chosen today to salute our loyal letter writers: readers of this publication who take the time ever so often to put pen to paper –– or rather to apply fingers to keyboard since the computer is now so prevalent –– to share their ideas and thoughts on issues with a national and, indeed, global audience served by Barbados TODAY.
Regular contributors like Carl Moore, Adrian Sobers, Michael Rudder and Michael Ray, to name a few, who make an invaluable contribution to public debate via the op-ed pages. In some cases, their wit enables us to see the lighter side of a complex issue. We truly wonder sometimes if decision-makers take note of the pearls of wisdom which flow from their pens!
Are they seen in such circles as persons who have the national interest at heart and want the best for Barbados or as persons just seeking a national platform only to sound off because they seem to have spare time on their hands? We certainly hope not because the quality of decision-making can certainly be enhanced through such input from ordinary citizens.
Indeed, it must be said that the best ideas which can inform the design of practical solutions to problems do not necessarily reside with those at the top but can come from those at the bottom. It happens to be so because the average citizen often speaks from the wellspring of daily living experience. As the saying goes, who feels it knows it. A flaw in decision-making is that it tends to be driven more by a top-down rather than a bottom-up approach.
Barbados can boast of a rich history of letter writing to the press. In bygone years when newspapers were the dominant medium, before the Internet and social media had even been dreamed of, Barbadians were regularly treated to the insightful contributions from the late Joan Benjamin, Vernon Fenty, Audley Chase, Wilton Angoy, among others.
They wrote on myriad topics of public interest. That tradition continues with the present generation of letter writers. While other platforms exist today for the sharing of views and ideas, such as provision for comments at the end of each news story or column, we would like to see contributions from more letter writers, especially young people and women. In fact, the more, the merrier! Such would be a good sign that our democracy is flourishing.
We appreciate that many Barbadians may shy away from writing letters to the media because of a deep-seated fear that by publicly associating with an issue, especially if it is controversial, they are exposing themselves to the risk of offending someone in a powerful position and may suffer reprisal as a result. In the circumstances, such persons choose to play it safe, even though they will privately share their opinions.
The responsible exercise of free speech is a right granted to every Barbadian under the Constitution. As a stakeholder in the success of the country, every citizen has a right to express his or her opinions and ideas. Today, we salute our loyal letter writers for their valuable contributions and extend an invitation to those sitting quietly on the sidelines, to join the debate and let their voices also be heard.