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ALBERT BRANDFORD: Say it ain’t so, Prime Minister!

Albert Brandford, [email protected]

ALBERT BRANDFORD: Say it ain’t so, Prime Minister!

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It may sound very strange to you but I think very highly of the media and taking the media very seriously because whether informing, explaining, persuading or entertaining, the media mediates the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed.

– Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, June 3, media luncheon, Ilaro Court.

PEOPLE WHO REALLY know Freundel Stuart do not consider him to be an arrogant, insensitive, uncaring man consumed by the awesome power of the office of Prime Minister.

They would tell you there is another Freundel Stuart who steps down from a political platform after having delivered another speech in the fiery, controversial Don Blackman style of rhetoric and cadences to warmly greet supporters and well-wishers.

Indeed, the Freundel Stuart, who is the St Michael South MP, can excoriate his political colleagues opposite from the floor of the House of Assembly while eviscerating their positions on issues, and then proceed downstairs to the Parliament yard to meet and greet the party faithful without missing a beat.

Now, that Freundel Stuart, has demonstrated that while he might “think very highly of the media” he does not need them either in the pursuit of his personal political agenda or in the execution of his Government’s policies and programmes.

He’s aloof, distant, often silent for long periods. But arrogant?

All of which may partially explain why in his first substantial engagement with the media after six years in office, by his own admission, his relationship with the media was not anything to write home about, although he remained firm in the belief that the Fourth Estate was critical to the strengthening of Barbados’ democracy.

It was, therefore, alarming on reading of his encounter last Monday with a news team from the NATION while touring the proposed Hyatt Regency site on Bay Street that, according to media accounts, reportedly left him feeling “disrespected” at what was purportedly a “private” meeting.

I must confess having a hard time absorbing the report that Stuart told the team the tour was a “private meeting”!

My initial reaction was the reporting was inaccurate, the news team had misheard him or he had been misquoted.

I waited the entire week, in vain, for a statement from either the Prime Minister’s Office or the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) to set the record straight.

In its absence one has to conclude that the reporting was accurate and Stuart did indeed feel that it would have been respectful if the team had allowed him his “private meeting” in full view of every Barbadian and visitor traversing one of the busiest streets in Bridgetown.

Absolutely astounding!

What was he thinking? That an alert media house would miss the opportunity to record for its readers, and posterity, his “private” tour of one of the most controversial projects proposed for our world famous capital?

What expectation of “privacy” could he possibly have entertained in an open space beside the busiest vector into the heart of The City?

In my view, it would have been the height of irresponsibility had the team not completed the assignment as their training and instincts as professional journalists would have prompted them to do, and failure to do so would also have constituted a disservice to their valued readers who depend on the media for their information about what’s going on around them, particularly Government’s activities.

The Prime Minister himself, while acknowledging the mediation role of the media in the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed, had praised the media for its conduct in an independent Barbados.

“Here in Barbados, fortunately, for the last 50 years, we have had very responsible media,” he said at the luncheon, “and I have felt that it would have been churlish were I to embark on this exercise of engaging the agencies and not begin with the most important practitioners in the media in Barbados.”

I empathise with my friend and colleague Natanga Smith who was reportedly on the receiving end of “churlish” behaviour by a member of the Prime Minister’s security staff who would have had to be acting, apparently not on Freundel Stuart’s instructions, but on his own misguided notions of what protecting the Head of Government entails.

My hope is that the Prime Minister would at the earliest opportunity disavow such treatment, since as he said: “I have the highest possible regard for the people in the media and the role that they continue to play in the solidification of our democracy.”

I take him at his word.

Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: [email protected]