With the campaign for the next general election wholly and truly under way, the role of journalists and the media in the coverage of the battle to govern will be under more scrutiny than ever before.
The people who offer to represent the interests of Barbadians will have sleepless nights, worried that the prize of power could so easily slip from their grasp and the last thing they want is a media that analyses and dissects their every pledge and utterance, their conflicting statements and the promises not kept.
They will invoke again and again the Collins dictionary’s word of the year for 2017, ‘Fake News’, to try to delegitimize what we do. Their supporters, faithfully wedded to one party of the other, will lose every sense of reason, increasing their garrulous baying by several decibels whenever another attack is launched against one of their disliked journalists.
Revanchism will be the order of the day for peccadilloes imagined or real, even though the ‘enemy’ they see in the media is created by none other than the politicians themselves and their supporters, mostly as a distraction from their self-created conundrum.
Therefore, when a candidate espouses a position on free education, for example, that appears to contradict that of the party; or when a minister does not keep his promise to re-fleet the Sanitation Service Authority, for example, it is the journalist who reports it who is the villain.
When leaders from the various political parties collude in the fiction that they are all one big happy family; or as has been the case on countless occasions, when they loosen the bonds of collective responsibility and become open about airing their dirty linen in public, it is the media that are demonized for pointing out the blindingly obvious.
We are aware that, like many of us, politicians have overinflated egos. And nowhere is this more evident than on the platform before hundreds of adoring supporters. They want to be loved, worshipped and revered, so they put on a spectacle, making promises they can never keep, and sometimes, statements they will later regret.
But, when the media point these things out, they return to the old playbook of vituperative attacks and threats of litigation, rallying their backers with allegations that one journalist or the other, one newspaper of the other, one radio station or the other, is hostile to them and their supporters and is engaging in a politically motivated ruse.
Their intention is to silence the press through the backdoor, and by extension, keep the independent, thinking voter in the dark, therefore, imperiling the very democracy they proclaim to defend. Barbadians must not allow them to get away with it.
“A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. Where men have the habit of liberty, the press will continue to be the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen,” former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill once said.
It is a creed which every Barbadian should continue to embrace, even when the report does not place us in a favourable light. The opposite is an insidious, subtle and surreptitious threat to our democracy.
This does not mean that we as journalists are perfect. Far from it. We sometimes falter in the execution of our duties. There are times when we get it wrong, when we allow our standards to fall.
When we do, we have a responsibility to own up, apologize and correct our error. As professionals, we must establish standards and continue to improve our skills. Frequent training is always a good idea.
However, we cannot take for granted journalism that speaks truth to power, that holds our Government and leaders responsible for their words and actions, or inaction.
As the campaign heats up, all sides will insist that much is at stake, and we agree.
However, now more than ever, there is a need for progressive journalism that is committed to facts and helping voters and Barbadians at large make sense of the promises the politicians make and the differences that exist between and among the parties.
We have a responsibility to help the public see through the pious, sanctimonious and oleaginous, displays of cynical self-righteousness that will no doubt present itself night after night as the campaign heightens, as one side attempts to show that it is good and the other side is bad.
“The liberty of speaking and writing guards our other liberties,” Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the country’s third president, said.
We cannot afford to be casual about our own liberties. Such liberties are not taken away in one fell swoop. They are eroded slowly, deliberately and sneakily. Therefore, we must not allow our politicians, who promise to act in our interest, to slowly chock the life out of it.
A muzzled media would not make Barbados a better place, it would simply leave us with a press that lacks the will to hold the mighty to account.