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JUST LIKE IT IS: Media and politics

Peter Simmons

JUST LIKE IT IS: Media and politics

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The political pace quickened in recent weeks heightened with the Budget debate.
Bearing in mind the seminal saying of cerebral British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that a week is a long time in politics, all hands have taken to the plough.
Winning a seat in the House of Assembly is not a walk on the beach. Those interested in forming the next Government would be conscious that many hard hours must be spent in intensive canvassing to win the electorate’s confidence, votes and a majority in the House.
Whereas there are many who believe that the ever cautious leader of the ruling Democratic Labour Party will be dilatory, taking the country down to the last legitimate moment, others will recall that on Sunday, May 27, 2012, he put the country on notice that he may ring the bell sooner than anyone thinks.
He alone knows for sure the date but all political parties and their candidates would have taken him at his word and prepared themselves for the battle ahead, safe in the knowledge that there is a finite date months away which he cannot go past.
Hence the stepped up pace at the constituency and national levels so that when the bell goes, the machinery is ready for takeoff. Comprehensive preparation for an election campaign is a prerequisite ignored at the party’s collective peril.
Against that background, I was surprised to hear the host of a call-in programme complaining that the Barbados Labour Party is constantly campaigning and in the electorate’s face. That is the way it has to be if the party hopes to win. The situation is exacerbated by being disadvantaged by nightly exposure afforded ministers of the DLP Government.
One would have hoped that this host would be aware that preparations for a successful election campaign must be ongoing, daily propagating an alternative to what the party in power is saying and doing. Of course, there is also the revered mantra that the duty of an Opposition is to oppose, particularly if it is constructive.
The final decision on the validity and attractiveness of the proposals of the parties will rest with the electorate and no amount of party political partisanship by any hosts of call-in programmes will overturn accumulated deficiencies in the platform and manifesto promises and performance which were significant catalysts catapulting the incumbents to power.
The colossal power of the media must not be under-estimated in any election campaign. In the United States, where elections are also months away, there is the glaring alignment of Fox News TV for the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, and MSNBC for the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama.
Each side presents the news and comments skewed to favour the party and candidate of its choice. It is not to the credit of Fox that their prime time commentators scurrilously and often irrationally tear down the president and can find no good in anything which bears his signature. That he is African-American heightens the intrigue.
In Barbados, the state-funded Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) does nothing to disguise the fact that it will sing relentlessly for its master’s supper. Its primary responsibility is to the Government. That notwithstanding, does its staff’s professionalism not mollify their yardfowlism in favour of the fact that life will continue after the election is won and lost?
The media bifurcation in Barbados becomes more evident every day. It is said that the Advocate newspaper, like CBC, is resolutely pro-Government, while THE NATION and Starcom group is perceived to be pro-Opposition.
As a microcosm of the wider society, it is hardly surprising that there are individuals within these media houses who are supporters of one party or the other and wear their loyalty on their tongues or fingertips. And that is their inalienable right in this robust democracy.
The difficulty inheres in their individual felt need to twist their comments to buttress their political inclinations and fly in the face of reality, reason and professionalism. Such mental gymnastics reduce them to nothing more than water carriers for their particular party.
It is the common practice of proper journalists globally to place the broadcast of news stories in some order of priority based on their importance. Time and again, CBC TV in its major newscast abrogates this fundamental principle depending on whether the news reflects favourably or not on Government.
The latest example came last week when the Central Bank Governor gave his usual quarterly economic report to the country. It was by a long way the most important story of the day which in any normal media house would have had top billing.
Amazingly, when people everywhere are anxious about their country’s economic and financial health, CBC found stories of greater significance than the governor’s national report.
Demonstrably, the station has lost its compass. How sadly unprofessional!
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat.