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WHAT MATTERS MOST: Media should do better


Dr Clyde Mascoll

WHAT MATTERS MOST: Media should do better

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It is sad that journalists, defined narrowly as reporters, are not allowed to have an opinion when reporting on the economy, politics and the society. Perhaps this is as it should be. When the word journalists is more broadly defined to include columnists, then offering an opinion is understandable and acceptable.
In large societies like the United States, citizens are allowed to be registered as Democrats or Republicans. The facts of the matter do not change but different perspectives result from the differences in philosophy. Journalists are part of the citizenry but are expected to have an unbiased perspective.   
The information of the reporter carries mostly the unfiltered bias of the source. This bias reflects the perspective of the provider since it is hoped that the facts are accurate. In several instances, the accuracy is presumed.
There is no doubt in my mind that the media could have done a much better job in informing the Barbadian public of the state of the economy over the last six years. But it spent too much of its time trying to set up one perspective against the other, rather than focusing on presenting the facts.
It is more difficult to present the facts than it is to get an opinion from someone to report. Understanding the facts even for the reporter requires doing research on the past and comparing the data. The difficulty comes in recognising that figures/statistics comprise several components of a trend, a seasonal, an irregular and a cyclical nature.
It is unreasonable to expect under-paid journalists to humbug themselves with such specialised work in an environment that does not demand it. Not even the established journalists seem inclined to follow the path of information rather than simply opinion. And even when information is available, the challenge becomes one of presentation.
Unfortunately, the medium that is most appropriate for visual presentation is in the hands of the Government, with no hope in sight of it becoming more widely available. It is fascinating how competing news networks in the US are able to present loads of information from the past which is compared with the current data that permits assessment of the several components mentioned above.
Such presentations reduce concerns about the accuracy of the data and take the subjectivity out of the debate, which forces the arguments to revolve around perspectives based on philosophical differences. Given it is believed that no such major differences exist between the two major political parties in Barbados, the issue of accuracy of information becomes more important. This fact is not sufficiently recognised and respected by the local media.
Here are some examples of the critical economic issues that fit the perspective in this article.
The current fiscal crisis is a direct consequence of the breakdown of a fundamental principle of fiscal management employed in this country since Independence. Apart from the unprecedented size of the fiscal deficit, its structure has changed dramatically which constitutes the major problem. This matter could have been dealt with by a more discerning media with the appropriate tools.  
The growth of the national debt over the last six years has significantly outstripped the growth between 1994 and 2008. This issue ought not to have been a bone of contention when it is true. Instead, the media should have been demanding an explanation of the differences on grounds of philosophy between the two parties. By simply presenting the facts, an explanation would have been forthcoming.
The lack of economic growth is not just a consequence of the international economic environment. An understanding of the workings of the economy is indeed easy to present on television. In the absence of visual presentations, the task is much harder. Again, all the media have an obligation to inform and educate on such a matter, but failure to do is understandable if CBC has a monopoly.
The earning of foreign exchange is a big issue for the Barbados economy. However, the notion that only the stock of foreign reserves at the Central Bank of Barbados matters is a gross misrepresentation of reality. The foreign exchange in the commercial banking system matters even more. This is another area of opportunity.    
From my perspective, the major economic issue in Barbados is how to finance the existing fiscal deficit. This has implications for the size of the national debt and the return of economic growth. Understanding the printing of money is paramount.  
The time is still ripe for more information and education.
• Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy.

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