EDITORIAL: Responsible we have been
Within recent times one of the issues coming to the fore has been the role of the Press and moreso the criticism of it by members of the political class.
In the Estimates debate last week, we were at the receiving end of Chris Sinckler’s tongue, and in the town hall discussion on the cost of living, Haynesley Benn delivered himself of pointed criticisms of the cartoon showcasing the little worm.
It is not normally our practice to reply to criticism of the Press, nor of our publications, but we think it fair, in the light of these recent developments, that we reiterate the traditional role of the Press, and its importance as a watchdog of democracy.
When the British writer Edmund Burke stated back in 1787 that there were three estates of the realm, he was referring to the powerful governing institutions of the day. Hence the seminal importance of his declaration as he pointed to the Reporters’ Gallery in the House of Commons and said that there were three Estates in Parliament, but, “in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there [sits] a Fourth Estate more important by far than they all”.
The irony of the remark is that Burke was speaking on the occasion of the opening up to Press reporting of the proceedings of the British House of Commons, and the three Estates
to which he was referring were the Lords Temporal (House of Lords), the Lords Spiritual, being those bishops who were stalwarts of the state-established church, and the House of Commons.
It is from pertinent observation such as Burke’s that the tradition of the Press as an equal partner in the democratic process of governance emerged. We provide a crucial link between the political directorate and the people on whose behalf the country is governed, and because power corrupts and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, it becomes our role to hold the feet of the political managers of our society to the fire.
It is a role which we have tried our best to honourably discharge ever since we first saw the light of day in November of 1973.
We do not hold ourselves to be above criticism, nor do we consider ourselves as getting it right on every occasion, but surely the two issues on which we have been criticized by Minister Benn and now by Minister Sinckler relate to matters of major interest in which we have sought to reflect and give light to the public’s legitimate concerns.
The cost of living is an issue on which specific action was promised by the present Government when campaigning for office, and the public has a right to know and to discuss how much progress, if any, has been made on the way to solving the issue.
The CLICO affair is an even more sensitive issue. The collapse of the regional conglomerate has occurred during the watch of the present Government, though it may have originated before the current administration took office. Again we have reflected the legitimate concern of depositors and purchasers of insurance policies, who may feel acutely disadvantaged by the turn of events and are asking what the Government intends to do to assist them, given their earlier reliance on Government’s assurances concerning the Barbadian operations of Clico.
We are very conscious of the power of the Press, and we try to ensure that we harness and control that power in a responsible manner. And there is no reasonable criticism that we think can be made of our conduct in giving voice to criticisms on the two issues mentioned.
In larger societies both these issues might have been even more vigorously pursued, but responsible restraint has been our approach.
We therefore reject out of hand the criticism hurled at us by Messrs Benn and Sinckler. We claim neither perfection nor infallibility; but in dealing with these issues, we have held fast to the highest standards of responsibility!