Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Editorial | An exaggeration of death, Ms Hanna

Published:Friday | October 6, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Lisa Hanna's embarrassing stumble on her first outing as the shadow foreign minister is not fatal, but it highlights the accidents to which politicians are especially susceptible when they chase after shiny objects rather than embrace substance. Which was precisely the essence of our advice to Ms Hanna on the day of her blunder.

Ms Hanna, who was previously the People's National Party's (PNP) spokesperson on youth and gender, was last week appointed to her current job in Peter Phillips' rearrangement of the shadow Cabinet since he assumed leadership of the party in March.

On Wednesday, she issued her first statement in this new role, expressing sadness at the supposed death of Anton Edmunds, St Lucia's permanent representative to the Organization of American States, who was supposedly among the 59 people killed in the Las Vegas shooting spree. Except that Ambassador Edmunds is very much alive and had, the day previously, cleared up the rumour of his death.

 

LESSON IN DIPLOMACY

 

The incident provided a keenly grasped opportunity for the Jamaican foreign minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, to offer Ms Hanna a sniggering lesson in diplomacy and of the danger, in that phrase appropriated and made ugly by Donald Trump, of 'fake news'.

We can hazard a few guesses of the reasons for Ms Hanna's blunder. One is that she is a zealous devotee to social media, of which nothing is wrong - if you appreciate its limitations and potential pitfalls.

The great strength of the various social-media platforms is their ability to democratise information by advancing access to anyone with a device that provides connection to the Internet. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the rest are at their command. All can disseminate information at will.

The potential downside with this army of citizen journalists is, unlike with professional media organisations, the absence of invigilation. There are no gatekeepers to check for the accuracy - whether of fact or context - of the information they publish, or to insist on corrections when errors are made. Sometimes, too, provocateurs deliver deliberately false information.

Mr Edmunds' purported death made the rounds on social media.

 

FAKE NEWS

 

Wherever Ms Hanna got her information, we suppose she felt she had pulled a coup by being ahead of Mrs Johnson Smith and the Jamaican Government by the public declaration of condolences for a Caribbean diplomat whose death, as it turned out, was not only greatly exaggerated, but downright false.

There are serious lessons in this episode for Ms Hanna, on which she should have known instinctively and displayed with alacrity, which, unfortunately, she did not. When you are patently wrong, you acknowledge the error and apologise. It's an effective strategy for everyone, but more so for politicians.

An equally important lesson for the shadow minister came from her party leader - his admonition to the shadow Cabinet against "mindless opposition", which we interpret to include attempts at petty one-upmanship, of the kind that Ms Hanna appears to have attempted.

The public expects from his shadow Cabinet, Dr Phillips said, a realistic vision for Jamaica and the priorities of a PNP government. This newspaper has already told Ms Hanna what those should be with regard to foreign policy, inclusive of a foreign trade agenda. Indeed, what we placed on the table is just as relevant for Mrs Johnson Smith, and perhaps even more so given her incumbency.

As Ms Hanna regroups, she would do well to start by reading the advice that appeared in this newspaper, in these columns on Wednesday.