Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Ralph Jemmott
In recent times I stopped listening to the Brass Tacks call-in program as consistently as I used to. The exception was on Mondays and Fridays when David Ellis was the moderator.
This does not mean that I could escape the other moderators as the other occupant of the house would turn on the radio no matter who was in the chair.
If she was out I would feel free to enjoy the quiet of the day. This is not to put down the other hosts each of whom brought their own singular talents to the show.
Denis Johnson is clearly very popular but I find that he tends to interpose himself a bit too much into the discourse. He is however possessed of a most insightful, critical intellect and speaks from the heart.
Peter Wickham is a bright person but in my old age I have perhaps regrettably become a cultural conservative and find him a bit too liberal for my taste. In his quest to be ‘logical’ he too often ignores the claims of ‘linear logic’ or common sense.
That as he would himself say is ‘unfortunate.’
Corey Lane brings a youthful enthusiasm to the show and Ms Joyann Haigh exhibits a real compassion for the problems of callers.
David Ellis is of course a real broadcast journalist who as he likes to say has ‘been in town long.’ A shrewd observer, he is aware of much of Barbados’ political and social history over the past three decades.
His most endearing journalistic quality is his search for truth in so far it can be found and objectivity in trying to find it. On a talk-show this is not the easiest of prospects as one is buffeted by all kinds of opinions, ill-informed, misinforming and occasionally malicious.
This is particularly true when those opinions reflect extreme political partisanship as they often are on Brass-tacks. In all the years listening to that program, I am at a loss to discern where Ellis’ political affiliations rest.
Not surprisingly he comes under attack from both sides. Often playing the ‘Devil’s disciple’ he is likely to indicate to a caller where the facts might favour a different conclusion.
We live in an age where many talk off the top of their heads, where subjectivity and bias are the order of the day, and where to be objective is to be accused of ‘sitting on the fence.’
David Ellis did not always suffer fools gladly, particularly where an outlandish claim was made and a conclusion reached without a scintilla of evidence and sometimes with wicked intent from which the radio station has to be safeguarded.
Invariably the discourse, between Mr Ellis and callers like Alvin and Mr. Straker’s Tenantry creates more heat than light but makes for good entertainment not unlike Tony Marshall did with Virney Hinds.
There are times when he appears too indulgent of these callers, but on occasions, depending on his mood, he appeared to enjoy the banter as much as they did or even more.
In a country in which the libel laws are quite strict, it is very difficult to practise the level of investigative journalism witnessed in the United States.
Having briefly sat in the moderator’s chair for the evening ‘Tell it like it is’ program I was acutely aware of how much censorship broadcast journalists find necessary to observe.
This became more evident after the award paid to the then Minister of Tourism when Starcom moderators
seemed forced to follow a level of self-censorship not witnessed previously.
However Mr. Ellis exercised a degree of fearlessness not often seen in local circles. This sometime aroused the ire of politicians generally and political leaders more specifically.
In this regard Ellis found himself criticised by both major parties when he appeared unwilling to sing in their respective choirs and from their proffered hymn sheet.
He was quick to point out how politicians can say one thing in government and espouse another when in opposition. He had been in town long and knew the stories and was not afraid to tell of the hypocrisy.
Owen Arthur once questioned whether Davis Ellis was the great journalist he (Ellis) thought that he was. The remark itself suggested that Ellis had earned the respect and fear of the Prime Minister himself.
On Friday February 26 Starcom paid a deserved tribute to David Ellis. The retiring journalist himself said that persons offering themselves for politics hardly ever use the word ‘democracy’ they talk about ‘other things.’
The full meaning of the statement was not clear. Ellis was always reminding listeners that things have to be taken in context particularly in the context of the prevailing culture.
This reminds one of Lloyd Best’s assertion that in the Caribbean our problems are not so much technical as cultural.
Decades ago I wrote an article entitled ‘Elombe and the People’s’ Democracy’ in which I suggested that Brass Tacks was a legitimate, if limited exercise of participatory democracy in Barbados.
It is clear that the political parties follow the program to calculate the direction in which the winds are blowing and are often responsive to such.
Brass Tacks has lost some of its intellectual appeal, having been taken over by ‘regular callers’ whose mission is partisan rather than constructively enlightening.
In the print media the op-ed pages of our papers are becoming increasingly weak, excessively concerned with baneful trivia. It would be a pity to lose Ellis’ talents in a field were skills are so obviously scarce.
Ralph Jemmott is a respected retired educator.