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OFF CENTRE: No free Press pass

Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: No free Press pass

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More than nine days gone. So some new wonder. But not for me.
I noticed that a NATION reporter and the Editor-in-Chief turned up last week at a meeting seemingly hosted by Governor of the Central Bank Dr DeLisle Worrell.
Now, this was after the said Governor had indicated, on May 8, that the newspaper’s personnel would no longer be invited to any Central Bank event he was hosting. And after his later doggie bone of a promise that the newspaper would still get the relevant releases from the bank.
But when at the meeting of operations managers of central banks in the region the two journalists turned up, hands were extended in greeting (I don’t know who proffered first) – and to many in a too-large small-idea section of the public anxious to get to another few days’ wonder, that was that.
I am sure I heard, more than one “We can move on now.”
A chance to seriously engage a big idea gone just so?
Listen, small island does not have to mean small-minded.
We need to think big – not make an easy peace with shaky freedom of the Press or freedom of speech along with victimization, nepotism, vote buying, political/parliamentary indecorousness, largesse, lack of transparency, lack of accountability, corruption, – just moving on to the next “flavour of the day” topic like it is another day’s menu in a restaurant.
We got to hunker down on the big ideas.
Unfortunately, even as many people knocked the Governor, one was not sure that they were big-ideaing. The general tenor?
His overkill. Overreach. Pompousness. Arrogance.
Not democracy.
Hence the “mending fences” talk. Look, you don’t “mend fences” about democracy. You draw lines in the sand and say “Thus far and no further”.
Too many people here seem not particularly averse to THE NATION or the Advocate or “Ding Ding Herald” being thrown under the bus – and all the more so if they have a bitter memory (especially personally grating) of a past transgression.
But as the independent New Zealand Press Council says, “Freedom of expression and freedom of the media are inextricably bound.
There is no more important principle in a democracy than freedom of expression.”
So handshake or no handshake, it cahn done so. Democracy is too big an idea for that.
Well, I doing my part. So after raging last week at how no one in the power-holding political hierarchy stood up against the Governor’s dangerous move, I want to look at another critical side of this big idea about freedom of the Press.
The Press has a grave responsibility. Its content must be accurate, legal, balanced, fair and – in sensitivity to its community – in good taste.
Whew! What mighty requirements to be unfalteringly attained by fallible man. And how easy to fail – if you know anything about Press processes. But we can insist on no less than that these organs ever reach these lofty ideals.
“The newspaper press is a great power,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.”
Because of the power of the Press, we can’t let it do as it pleases.
One recourse is the court.
Still, “whatever the law relating to the Press may be, there would still be a large quantum of objectionable journalism which, though not falling within the purview of the law, would still require to be checked” (India’s first Press Commission (1954)) I guess that’s what the Governor of the Central Bank felt. But he decided to be judge and jury in his own case.
We can’t have that.
Even in relation to things that are actually yours, civilised society institutes arbiters to determine appropriate amends for wrongs done against you. You are not allowed to both complain and sentence.
So, in media matters many countries have a Press council, to which aggrieved citizens can appeal for “satisfaction” from offending media. Barbados did have a Press Council at one time. It was, according to Mark D. Alleyne in Chapter 3: Mass Media In Barbados in Mass Media And The Caribbean (Ed. Stuart H. Surlin and Walter C. Soderlund), a national council of the umbrella, now long asleep/dead Caribbean Press Council, which was set up in 1976.
The council became, says Alleyne, “almost dormant” after the March 1985 death of PM Tom Adams, who was its “single most vociferous complainant, forcing the council to meet at least once every month”.
In spite of the complaints that, on the one hand, Press “watchdogs” founded on self-regulation are hesitant to “indict” their own, thereby being tame, and, on the other, that the independent ones have no seriously punitive power, we in Barbados must employ a focused, prominent way of redressing the offences of the Press against citizens in non-court matters.
Look, I have been misrepresented by an organ of the Press here and had to rush a record-straightening letter to Trinidad, where the wrong had wormed its way. I was so vex that smoke was probably coming through my ears.
Still, I will not join with those who in their consuming aggrievement want to throw out not only the stinking bath water, but (dammit!!!) the baby too – or at the very least dig out the baby’s eyes, burst its eardrums, and cut off one of its legs.
’Cause even while aggrieving me, that same Press entity was profoundly serving the community (me too) in other ways.
No small thing.
 • Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]