THE HOYOS FILE: Living in the ivory tower
“Earlier this year a top official of the Central Bank took us to task for allowing columnists like Patrick Hoyos and Clyde Mascoll to offer their opinions each week. He was adamant that on matters of the economy the only reputable voice was that of the Central Bank.” – Roy Morris, Editor-in-Chief of The Nation, writing in the June 11 issue of the MIDWEEK NATION.
Knowing how hard it can be to edit a publication that wants to be fair to all sides, I read with great interest the detailed outpouring of anecdote after anecdote offered up in the last week’s column written by the top editor of the Nation family of publications.
Of course, advertisers using the bully pulpit by threatening to withdraw their advertising as punishment for some sin of omission (shall we say, underexposure), or in the case cited, commission (most certainly, overexposure), is as old as the newspaper business itself.
Our country’s first newspaper publisher, Samuel Keimer, faced the wrath of the House of Assembly of the 1730s by simply reporting on their meetings. He was threatened with his very livelihood. They took away his contract to print official versions of their proceedings, leading to his eventual ruin.
In the 1930s a local businessman named Walter Bayley objected to a less than complimentary comment by the great Clennell Wickham on Bayley’s loud playing of the St Michael’s Church organ during lunchtime. It would have been funny but for the terrible consequences, both for Wickham and journalism in Barbados. Walter Bayley pulled his advertising from The Herald; Wickham closed his account with Bayley’s store, then wrote a devastating commentary about it, an outstanding example of how to roast your opponent.
But at least part, if not all, of it was considered libelous by Bayley, who got a court to agree and put such a heavy fine on The Herald that it spelled the end of that newspaper and the Barbados career of a crusading journalist, the likes of whom was never seen again in the next 90 years, and may never be again.
That was the price we paid for silencing the Press that time.
So while I hope that Mr Morris will not stop where he left off last week, but instead treat us regularly to his Stories From The Inside, as it were. I must let you know how shocked I was to learn that I had been some small cause of his editorial pain, at least to the extent suggested by the quotation at the top.
As for the position advanced by that “top” official, that on matters of the economy the only reputable voice was that of the Central Bank, it may need to be pointed out that the actual “voice” of any institution is created by one or more humans speaking on its behalf, presumably following some sort of policy framework.
That fact, if I may take a hypothetical example, would therefore make it possible for you to have no problem with, say, a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, but a serious one with the pilots, even if you yourself could not get a children’s kite airborne at the Garrison.
Especially if they kept banking to the left and then to the right without explanation, or telling you not to worry about a thing just as the oxygen masks appeared in front of your face.
I might also suggest that if we decided to stop people who know nothing about economics from talking about the economy, then we might, sooner rather than later, hear only an eerie silence emanating from the hallowed halls of the bank itself.
Okay, I take it back: everyone who works at the Central Bank is an economic genius. Therefore, perhaps one of them might explain why the bank has financed the Government by printing money to such an extent that they have been asked to stop.
Not by me, of course. Since I know nothing about it, I say go ahead and fire up the presses! But here is an excerpt from the Press release titled IMF Executive Board Concludes 2013 Article IV Consultation with Barbados (Press Release No. 14/51) dated February 12, 2014:
“Directors noted the authorities’ commitment to the nominal exchange rate anchor. They encouraged the Central Bank to reorient monetary policy towards supporting the exchange rate peg by curtailing direct financing of the Government, and allowing domestic short-term interest rates to rise to a level that reflects a credible country risk premium.”
You know what this means? It means that you can be messing things up so badly that even the mighty IMF has to call you to account. Talk about living in an ivory tower.
Anyway, my friends, lest you think this little column might now get me banned from said ivory tower, I just want to let you know that I stopped visiting a long time ago. I figured if I wanted to be told about the position of the economy as if it were a children’s bedtime story, where all the bad things go away and we live happily ever after, I could always re-read the Democratic Labour Party’s 2013 election manifesto.
Finally, while I do, as a journalist, try my best to be as reputable as possible, it doesn’t mean I have to pull my punches or say something I don’t believe to be the case, because I simply don’t need the Central Bank’s permission to comment on their economic reports. Or anything else.
That right is currently granted to me under the freedom of expression provision of the Constitution of Barbados, the country I was born in, and where I plan to reside until (I fervently hope) the Almighty calls on me to comment on the latest reports of the great central bank in the sky.