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IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: No thanks, Banks


Roy R. Morris

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: No thanks, Banks

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I DON’T DRINK BEER, Banks or any other kind. Never did. Never acquired the taste for it. But I am a proud supporter of Banks the company. It has been good for Barbados, has had an excellent record as a corporate citizen and has produced a brew that has won numerous awards around the world.

On the other hand, I’m a milk lover, which makes me a fan of Pine Hill Dairy – a member company in the Banks Holdings Limited chain. While you will never see me in the shop buying a beer, you will never catch me in the supermarket with fewer than a dozen one-litre cartoons of two per cent milk.

I drink it every day – all day long. And if I get up in the middle of the night feeling a little peckish, I head to the fridge for a glass, with four or five blocks of ice.

So what am I going on about? Last week Banks upset every bone in the body of one of my reporters, Natanga Smith, when she went to cover the Banks Calendar Girl contest in the Oistins Bay (almost said Beer) Garden.

Apparently she was handed a “photography release form”, on Banks letterhead, by a Banks representative who insisted she would not be allowed to enter unless she signed and returned it.

It read: “I, the undersigned, accept and acknowledge that my platform will not publish any image or description that can cause distress to Banks Breweries Limited and/or the contestants of the . . . competition.

“I further agree to remove any images or materials as requested by Banks . . . that may be considered defamatory in nature.”

In the interest of covering the event, Natanga signed the form. When she told me afterwards, I told her she should not have, and had they insisted, she should have left.

Now, while I do not believe as editor I am bound by the signature of a junior employee in such a matter, I believe I should let the good folks at Banks, and any other entity that believes it can determine our editorial policy, know that if they don’t want to see images that can cause distress, they should keep the scenes off the stage and out of the public domain.

How in the name of all that is good and fair can you organise a show in front of thousands of patrons and then tell the media don’t distribute anything that would embarrass you? Just in case you don’t know, Mr Banks Calendar Girl Organiser, there is a principle that governs the practice of journalism wherever freedom exists that simply says, there can be no expectation of privacy in public.

When a contestant, as occurred a few years ago, comes within a few millimetres of exposing her “naka naka” – as my fellow editor Antoinette Connell so affectionately refers to the private parts of a woman – you want us to pretend it did not occur?

Or when a contestant this year declares she identifies with Banks because both she and the beer are 100 per cent Bajan – one week after the company was acquired by AmBev of Brazil – you don’t think that is a perfect line for publication?

Here’s an alternative suggestion: If something embarrassing occurs, seek out the reporter and have a chat with him or her. You will probably get far better results than introducing pre-emptive strong-arm tactics like a “photography release form”.

In my day as a reporter, such an approach would only have compelled me to pay particular attention to the things that would cause you distress.

Just imagine what our country would be like if before every Press conference by a Government minister, we had to sign a release not to publish anything that would cause distress to them or the Government; if before every cricket match involving the West Indies, we accepted a similar injunction; if before the Barbados Labour Party fired Maria Agard, we had agreed to highlight only what they saw as positive from the Opposition Leader’s Press meeting; if we were compelled not to report the many ways MPs embarrass themselves during each televised Budget debate; if during Crop Over we signed saying we would not tell calypsonians they sounded horrible or their material was more suited for toilet paper, etcetera.

Come again, fellas!

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