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We welcome, applaud initiative by NDP

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19.MAY.06

President and leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Arnhim Eustace has admitted that his party had serious problems implementing their public relations strategies during the run up to the December 7, 2005 general elections.

This confession was made at a Media Luncheon hosted by the party last Thursday, May 11. Mr. Eustace announced that since the last elections, his party “has been involved in a period of retrospection” and after party retreats and several meetings of the Executive and the party’s Central Committee, some shortcomings were identified and a number of recommendations were made. {{more}}Among the shortcomings noted were issues relating to accessibility, which impacted negatively on their media relations. The opposition leader announced that the party is determined to work harder and more proactively with the media “in an effort to get our message across.”

The confession last Thursday must have been difficult for Mr. Eustace after his party’s spokespersons were extremely unfair to the media generally and Searchlight newspaper in particular, prior to and since the December 7 general elections. This paper had been accused of anti-NDP bias and its editors and journalists branded as “hungry belly reporters singing for their supper”. Mr. Eustace made it abundantly clear, however, that the Luncheon was in no way an inducement. But at least we left with some food for thought.

The management of this paper has never issued any directive to its journalists on how they should report on the NDP. Stories, as is the usual practice were only checked for libel and good taste.

An analysis will show that our elections coverage of the two major political parties between September 9 and December 16, 2005 comprised 34 stories relating to the Unity Labour Party (ULP) and 32 about the NDP. An examination of the newspaper’s bound volume for 2005 will prove this.

While we have been providing wide coverage of the NDP, the party has opted to take its business elsewhere. The NDP ran only one advertisement in this paper during the entire 2005 elections campaign. This was published in our November 25 issue. One other advertisement, which was booked by the NDP for the Friday before the elections, was cancelled. At the same time, multiple advertisements were being run in the two other newspapers in the months leading up to the December 7 elections. This, however, did not affect our coverage of the NDP.

The day after one of the NDP’s largest meetings, Searchlight was approached by the party for photographs needed to prepare campaign advertising material. We gave them the photographs free of charge.

Our understanding is that the NDP was particularly incensed over the printing of a special 16-page edition of the newspaper on December 6, 2005. Fourteen-and-a-half of those 16 pages (not including the front page which carried our masthead) contained paid advertisement from the ULP. On Page 1 and part of Page 2, we carried a story written by one of our journalists based on independent research done by regional pollster, Peter Wickham. Everything else in that edition was paid for by the ULP, and the same would have been done for any other party had we been approached.

This is acceptable practice in the world of print journalism, as long as it is clearly stated for whom the publication is prepared, and no attempt is made to pass the contents off as being independent. We are fully aware that the NDP had excerpts from their manifesto published as wraps around the two other newspapers the Friday before elections, but there was no complaint there.

It is commendable that the NDP has realised the importance of accessibility and that media houses with deadlines, must obtain information for their publications in a timely manner.

The NDP’s poor public relations was noted by a leading, experienced and well respected regional journalist who visited St. Vincent during the elections campaign to get his own feel of the political situation on the ground. The ULP officials facilitated him without hesitation; he received no such courtesies from the NDP. Searchlight was given similar treatment during the elections campaign.

Media houses shouldn’t be castigated because political parties fail to get their public communications in order. We therefore welcome and applaud this initiative by the NDP to improve relations with the media and this paper. As a party that represents 44 percent of the electorate, the NDP has a serious obligation to itself, their supporters and the reading public to provide information about their activities, policies and views so that readers can make informed decisions. We owe it to the public, as Mr. Eustace says, to be unbiased, balanced and analytic in our reporting. The public deserves no less and Searchlight will continue not to be found wanting in this regard.

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