It seems that if Minister of Education Ronald Jones really had his way, given the fury he unleashed on the news media last Friday, the Barbadian Fourth Estate would be a prime candidate to get its head cracked.
The reference draws from a controversial statement which the Member of Parliament for Christ Church East Central made in the House of Assembly a few years ago that continues to haunt him politically to this day.
Speaking at a function at Erdiston Teachers’ Training College, Mr Jones took the opportunity to lambaste the media for reporting on the vexing issue of student violence, which has reared its ugly head in the country’s schools and occasionally plays out in full public view in skirmishes on the street.
“It is wrong when a society burdens its children for a few cents,” Jones said, accusing the media of highlighting the violence to boost profits from sales. In the case of Barbados TODAY, the charge does not hold water. We do not sell our publication; it is made available to readers free of cost. So that while Mr Jones is free to express his opinions on any subject, he should refrain from going overboard and distorting reality as has clearly happened in this case by painting all media with the same brush.
However, if the media were to sweep the issue under the carpet, as Mr Jones seems to be suggesting, would it really matter? Of course not, given the reality of the communications technology available today. Indeed, rather than the traditional media, it is often the students themselves or members of the general public with smart phones who are the first to broadcast the images of violence on social media where it is then brought to the attention of the mainstream media.
Mr Jones, therefore, is being grossly unfair in targeting the traditional media and suggesting that blame must be fully placed at their feet. An important point must be made. It seems, based on observation, that the Ministry of Education, under Mr Jones’ leadership, is yet to fully come to terms with the implications of the pervasive presence and influence of new media and communications technologies on society as a whole, but especially the minds of our young people.
It begs the question of why the Ministry has not yet responded by introducing the subject of media literacy in our schools, which should have been done a long ago. It has become a highly relevant subject because of the extent to which young minds are being influenced, especially by external images they receive via the Internet, on their cell phones in particular. We speak specifically of sexual images via pornography and violent images through some music videos, for example, which glamorize the bad boy and bad girl/thug sub-culture.
Media literacy, which represents a 21st century approach to education, can help our young people to become more responsible media consumers. It can help them develop critical thinking skills, understand how media messages shape our culture and society, recognize what the media producer wants them to believe and do and recognize bias, spin, misinformation and lies. According to the Centre for Media Literacy, it provides a framework for students to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet.
Exposure to media literacy, therefore, would enable our young minds to realize that a lot of the images to which they are exposed, especially related to sex and violence, and which they in turn mimic in their behaviour, are not a true representation of reality, or rather the Barbadian reality, and that they are just a construct for a particular purpose which they must determine. It would be a wise move for media literacy to be introduced simultaneously with the ministry’s new cell phone use policy for students later this year.
The mainstream media have traditionally functioned as a mirror of society. Our reporting, certainly in the case of Barbados TODAY, provides a snapshot of the major events and issues that transpire daily across our island, our region and the world. Some of what is reported is positive, some is negative but, most importantly, it is not fabricated, but an accurate portrayal of reality.
Barbados TODAY strives to be responsible in its coverage which sometimes calls for the exercise of restraint in the public interest. Our coverage may not always please the minister, his Government or the Opposition for that matter, for whom the media have become a favourite whipping boy, but they owe it to society to try at least to be fair in their assessments.
History shows it is futile attempting to shoot the messenger because the message somehow always finds a way to survive.