EDITORIAL: Time to meet the press, Mr PM
A PUBLIC DISCLOSURE over the weekend by the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) should be of more than passing interest to Barbadians, given the apparent similarity of situations in the two countries.
According to the Jamaica Observer newspaper, PAJ president Dionne Jackson Miller complained that since he became prime minister in February Andrew Holness had not held a single press briefing.
On behalf of the country’s media workers, the PAJ wrote the prime minister stating it was “very concerned about media access to ministers of government, and particularly to Mr Holness”.
The newspaper also reported that the complaint against the current prime minister was no different from that lodged against his predecessor, Portia Simpson Miller, who was accused of “not speaking directly to the press for most of the time she was prime minister between January 2012 and February 2016”.
“The PAJ noted that Mr Holness, since assuming office in March, had yet to hold a comprehensive press briefing in the capacity of prime minister, which all media representatives could attend and ask him a range of questions, for the benefit of the public. The PAJ urged Mr Holness to remedy this deficiency as early as possible in the new year, and to make these briefings a regular staple on his schedule,” the Observer said.
This really is no different from the Barbadian experience, except that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has been in office considerably longer. In early June, while speaking with media workers he had invited to Ilaro Court as part of the 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations, Stuart acknowledged his lack of structured interaction with journalists and promised that he would do better.
“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.”
And he added, while noting he was “not an opponent of press conferences; it is just that I have not got to them yet”: “I want to assure you that that is coming. I am not afraid of them; I think they are healthy. It is just that other things have preoccupied me. As I 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.”
Unfortunately, while Barbadians have heard the Prime Minister speak on several occasions since then, both within and outside of the country, there has not been a press conference at which the media could engage him on issues of concern.
So we echo the call from the Press Association of Jamaica to their prime minister. We, and by extension the people of Barbados, took you at your word seven months ago that the press conference held then would not be a one-off event, and therefore call on you to make yourself available to the press for questioning on issues of public importance and then to ensure that it continues throughout 2017.
Mr Prime Minister, you cannot preach the importance of the media to the preservation of democracy and then engage in an approach to the job as leader of the country that actually serves to stifle that democracy. It takes far more than lip service to make a democracy work effectively.
We consider your leadership on this issue of absolute importance because it is now clear that too many of your ministers are taking the tune from you on their interaction with the media and public – displaying an attitude that is not just dismissive to journalists, but also the public they represent.