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A call to journalists

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“My fellow Journalists, not every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of a politician is news. We are reporters, not scribes. That means we’re supposed to use our judgement to sift the wheat from the chaff. We also have a responsibility to report on the people’s concerns, views and ideas, which are often more substantial and practical than the rhetoric of politicians. It is time to stop bombarding the public with details of narcissistic rantings and juvenile squabbling, time to change the conversation to reflect the lives of the people. After all, isn’t that supposed to be the main concern of the politicians?”{{more}}

I came across the piece quoted above and was told that the author was Peggy Carr and that it came from her website. I am assuming that this is valid, since I have not been able to check it. I am not sure about the context in which it was written and about the broader piece from which it supposedly came. It certainly caught my attention. I have decided to base this week’s article on it, since it raises issues that call for discussion among journalists, the media generally and readers and listeners. It announces itself as a call to ‘fellow journalists’. For me, even if not originally intended, it challenges journalists to look at themselves and their profession. I am not sure, really, how many journalists look at their purpose and role and I say this, bearing in mind that there are a number of untrained journalists. I would assume that those who have been trained would have had to go through a process of examining their profession and how they fit into it. But I am prepared to go beyond this and to state that the issues raised and the concerns which must have prompted the focus of that piece are of general concern to people involved in the media generally and even to the reader and listener.

Some years ago I had to give an address to St Lucia’s Media Association. I put forward some views on what I considered the role of journalists and of the media generally. Rick Wayne, owner and editor of the Star, took me to task. He called me naive and said that the media had one purpose and that was to make money. I was really taken back because Rick Wayne had been involved in the newspaper business for some time. Rick is quite a controversial figure and I was hoping that his response was simply a way of being sensational. But since then, I have often wondered how journalists and the media saw themselves and their role. My political science classes had exposed me to the view that the media/press was one of the pillars of a democracy and that our democracy would be the worse off if there were any shortcomings in the media. Since then, when I write for or participate in any media programme, I have always been influenced by that view, taking into account, of course, that there are specialised media. But to my mind even a Sports Journal should be guided by some of what applies to the broader media.

I was particularly attracted to this view, “not every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of a politician is news.” By now, most of us will be familiar with situations in which a politician is asked to make short remarks at some function. The cameras are rolled out, journalists’ notepads are open, but once the Minister has finished his/her say, the cameras are packed and the notebooks are closed. The Minister’s brief remarks become the order of the day, as everything else has to take second place. Some years ago, it might have been in 2002, a friend of the Prime Minister had paid a short visit to the country. He asked me how his friend was doing. I told him that he would probably catch a glimpse of him on the television news. The next day, before he left, he said: “But everything was about him.” I simply said “Well, that’s your observation!”

Peggy, if she is indeed the author, goes further: “We also have a responsibility to report on the people’s concerns, views and ideas, which are often more substantial and practical than the rhetoric of politicians.” She said that it was time to change the conversation “to reflect the lives of the people.”

Is there no room for more critical reporting? Sometimes, statements are made by politicians that contradict earlier statements they might have made. At times straight unabashed comments/statements are made that bear no relationship to the truth and can be easily checked. What we get often in these situations is the response of what Peggy calls a ‘scribe’, reporting uncritically what had been said. Do we in SVG need to change the conversation? What is our conversation about anyhow? Is it about the real issues and concerns of our people?

I have painted a broad brush. Clearly, in making broad generalisations, we put under one tent people and units that clearly do not belong there and I hope that this is understood. There is no attempt here to tarnish any unit or journalist, but simply a call for discussion of a number of the issues raised and others, of course. We will all benefit from this if it is a sober conversation. Peggy, at times, uses strong words: “narcissistic rantings and juvenile squabbling” could refer to many things. I am not sure what specifically she was trying to focus on with this, but let this be part of the conversation.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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