Dawn Ritch, Columnist
According to the press, they get to say when the Trafigura issue is dead. Not even the Opposition makes such a claim. Is this a declaration of amnesia on the part of the press?
Or do they think themselves more powerful than the Prime Minister and state commissions of enquiry and otherwise? Who elected them anyway, or their owners to decide what stops and when? I cannot believe that 'grey suits' indeed rule the country through the so-called parliament of the press, or the fourth estate.
No Regard For
All journalists claim to be for freedom of expression, yet tacitly accept when news is suppressed. This is where a deliberate editorial decision is taken by media to withhold information or bury stories. They do this on most of these occasions not for libel, inaccuracy or even bad taste. This is the press not reporting the news, but more importantly, trying to manage events that may or may not create news, without regard to the public interest.
That is not the role of the press. By trying to manage events instead of just reporting on them, the media becomes a participant in them. If their role is now participant rather than observer, they should declare this. To do otherwise in my mind rather negates the purpose of the free press.
I've always declared my hand early, so that no one need guess at my intentions. These questions of motivation rather spoil the fun, for me at any rate. The presence in any editorial scenario of commercial or vested interests, much less being guided by them while being a journalist, is anathema to the practice.
It is not the press which decides upon the agenda, but the free flow of events faithfully reported to the consumers of mass information. When surveys are done on what these consumers want to know about, and the results followed, it inevitably results in the dumbing-down of the press. It creates a guilt-ridden anxiety of ignorance spread broad and deep across the country. That applies, at any rate, to those who place any trust in the media.
This rather makes a mockery of the self-satisfied tones contained in the words: "A country's democracy is best served when members of the public have access to information about what their government is doing in their name and ostensibly on their behalf." The associate editor of The Gleaner, Colin Steer, penned these lines last week.
He claims that banning the press from the Hansard Box "... reinforce(s) an image of a government committed to hiding things and of a Prime Minister who needs continually to be sheltered because she is not up to the task of leading a government as was claimed by her colleagues in their intra-party presidential contest."
Earlier in the week, The Gleaner's own editorial stated: "Mrs. Simpson Miller will have to swallow hard in a reorganisation of her Government, replacing loyal or trusted allies who are obviously not capable of the most critical jobs and not skilled in the art of statecraft . . . . A deputy Prime Prime Minister would be in charge of the day-to-day management of the Government, someone with the grasp of the intricacies of Government and is not bored by detail."
It concluded by saying: "This would bring to the centre some of those sulking members who did not support Mrs. Simpson Miller's run for leadership, but in whom the requisite skills reside."
The clear import is that the "sulking" PNP presidential candidate Dr. Peter Phillips should be appointed deputy prime minister. Only he, The Gleaner apparently believes, has the requisite "statecraft" to be "in charge of the day to day operations of the Government."
This profoundly ignores the fact that Dr. Phillips, who holds a senior Cabinet position as Minister of National Security, is already the Leader of Government Business. In that capacity he is responsible for organising the business of Government in the House of Representatives. But nobody in media even asked him for a quote, or called his name.
Dr. Phillips is also responsible for saying when House meetings are held. So it was no wonder A. J. Nicholson, the Minister of Justice, was a little stunned when Dr. Phillips, at the start of a two day retreat at Morgan's Harbour, just upped and said he was off to Trinidad. The Justice Minister point plank refused to chair this meeting of the Joint Select Committee of the House and the Senate, no doubt because he had no advance warning, as no one saw fit to consult him.
As House Leader, Dr. Phillips had charge of the bill which the two-day committee retreat had met to consider. Not only that, but he was also the Minister of Government responsible for piloting it through the House. While it is customary that he chair the meeting, it is not obligatory. But Dr. Phillips, without any notice whatsoever, cancelled his chairmanship and took himself off to Trinidad. No commentator, much less reporter, thought it either unbecoming or strange in the slightest. Indeed it was worthy of note, but not of question. Such courtesy is reserved only for the privileged.
'The Sense Of Drift?'
Yet, the ongoing furore between the House and media, and during meetings of the House, do not indicate any capacity for governance on his part. How can the media contrive not to notice that he's acting like a zombie? And how much longer must Government business in Parliament appear disorganised before it comes to their attention who is responsible? Is this 'the sense of drift' to which they refer? He's shown himself a sore loser. There can be no merit in rewarding such behaviour at any level.
Having made a mess of the House since Portia Simpson Miller became Prime Minister, Dr. Phillips is now apparently being asked by The Gleaner to make a mess of the Prime Minister's office too. This would benefit only the Opposition. The faster Mrs. Simpson Miller insists that he perform, the better it will be for all. Otherwise, she is best advised to find a more competent and willing replacement.
Opposition Leader Bruce Golding chose to lead his side in that sitting of the parliamentary committee considering the sanctions on JLP MP Karl Samuda for misleading the House. All afternoon Golding starred as a frustrated lawyer, and was carried at length in prime time television news. The poor House Speaker Michael Peart stuttered away, and the PNP members were unable to assist him, which rather suggests that the House Leader, Dr. Phillips, didn't even bother to brief them before taking off for Trinidad.
Without any form of House control, Bruce was allowed to wander on in an endless monologue, confusing himself and the committee with the details. And this for a motion that had already been passed with amendments. If that were the way Government was run, or thought to run, the National Democratic Movement would long ago have had all 60 seats in the House.