The media in The Bahamas
By Philip C. Galanis
I have previously written about a series of "ideal institutions" to which we should aspire as a young nation. Those included articles on the ideal nation, the ideal electorate, the ideal prime minister and the ideal leader. Each of those articles sought to identify some of the features that would differentiate the empirical from the epitome, with a view to presenting characteristics of the ideal in each case. The last in that series was an examination of the role of the Fourth Estate in our nation and addressed some of the characteristics that we should expect and even demand of the ideal media.
Recently there has been considerable commentary from many quarters of civil society about the media in today's Bahamas which is why this week we would like you to Consider This... is the media in today's Bahamas fair and objective or does it appear that the media displays a bias which seems to favor one political party over another?
The answer to this question is critically important because, as the Washington Post’s Donald Graham once observed, journalism is the “first rough draft of history.” Here in our Bahamas, in the absence of the amount of written history that most other nations have, it is the print media especially that historians of today and the future depend upon for the stories of our times. The clarity and fairness of stories carried in the media become even more urgently important as we enter what has come to be referred to as "the silly season", that is the season during which we move toward general elections.
The media immensely impacts our impressions, ideas and insights about our world. Can we ever forget that old saying “if you hear it on ZNS, it must be true”? In fact, one of the first human impulses of the day is to turn on the TV or radio to learn what has what happened overnight. We often quench our insatiable thirst for news by purchasing the morning newspapers as soon as possible. Is it any wonder that all of the newspapers in The Bahamas, without exception, are now morning dailies? It is because, in perhaps the most unconscious way, the news that we hear on the radio or TV or that we read in the newspapers with our morning coffee sets the tone for our daily lives.
We often determine what we will do in our daily lives — and how we will think about an issue — after listening to or reading that day’s media reports. If that is not powerful in a very personal way, then that word should be redefined. We are constantly seeking stimuli that impact our existence and the most common method of receiving such incentives is by means of the news.
However, it is a widely held belief that the press in The Bahamas does not always seem to have the capacity or the will to deeply research all aspects of a topic and then present it in an informed way to the public. Sadly, the reason so many of the stories that we read in the papers or hear on the radio or television sound so similar is that many reporters rely on the “copy and paste” method of journalism, taking the press releases they get and simply regurgitating them verbatim with no additional in depth unearthing of other facts that could make the story richer and more complete. Our Fourth Estate, it is very sad to say, sometimes exhibits a kind of intellectual indolence that cannot — or will not — give the public the full story on many of today’s issues.
Then there is the “brotherhood” of our media that allows one reporter to use another’s information, instead of digging up their own facts and angles. Obviously, such sharing creates not only a similarity in what is reported but it often perpetuates one point of view, complete with mistakes and biases, as opposed to allowing the public access to varying viewpoints and diverse perspectives as regards a single story.
And then there is the overarching influence of the sensational. Oftentimes, our media prefers to offer — instead of solid, fact-filled chronicles of our time — the sensational sides of those same stories, reveling in the scandalous salaciousness of the events of the day and leaving out the more mundane particulars that hover far closer to the truth than those shocking bits of sip-sip that pass for the truth in our modern Bahamas. The average Bahamian would be surprised to learn how many of the “solid” news stories that form the headlines of the day originate not from the newsmakers but from those who hover on the periphery of those well known lives, people like a Minister’s driver or someone who passed along a tasty tidbit heard in a barber shop.
We recently read the Wikileaks disclosures which chronicled the sentiments that operatives in the United States Embassy here share about some of our politicians. The newspaper that printed those stories insists that they are only reporting on what was contained in "confidential missives" from the Embassy and that they have not distorted those views, although sometimes distortion can result from the simple decision of using one part of a story over another. While we accept that editorial position of the newspaper, it is equally important that the right balance is struck in the reporting of those stories.
We do not believe, as some do, that there is a pernicious conspiracy by that daily to undermine or to denigrate one particular political party. We are not so sure that the same can be said of some of the other newspapers. Nor do we ever believe that we should kill the messenger because of the message that is delivered. However, a discerning public demands and should demand that a balance should prevail in the reporting of such stories.
The question that really needs to be asked is why Wikileaks chose to disclose only these more recent cables when so much of our present day events were supposedly shaped by events that allegedly took place back in the 1980s and 1990s that deserve to come to light. Whose decision was it to access only these more recent cables, once again telling only a part of the story of the relationship of Bahamian officials with emissaries of the government of the United States.
As we approach another political campaign, one that will be undoubtedly fiercely fought, it is vitally important for the media to be balanced, to present the news in an uncensored, unadulterated manner. It is critically important that, because of the vital role that the media plays in shaping public opinion, all reporting be fair and balanced and, most important, inclusive of all sides and all facts, no matter the work involved in uncovering them. It is only in this way that the electorate will be able to objectively determine the truth of the matter, free of biased and skewed reporting, enabling Bahamians to make an informed decision about the merits or demerits of a story. Every member of the media should remember that a story with some of the facts left out is as damaging as a story with incorrect information.
The job of the media is not for the faint of heart. They are the men and women who wield what is probably the most powerful weapon ever invented, giving truth every day to the saying that the “pen is mightier than the sword.” As Adolf Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” So, should that weapon spread lies or even half-truths, considerable and lasting harm can be done to people, to societies and to nations. But when members of the media do their job, live up to their calling, exercise discernment and freely tell every part of a story, the truth creates a free people and a great nation.
Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jun 06, 2011