Much troubled water has flowed these past few weeks under the bridges linking the press and the public. The President of the Media Association claims the government and ruling party are out to collectively punish the entire local press – through him. Ditto the best-known daily afternoon English-speaking talk show host on island.
Each made strong allegations without even the weakest supportive evidence. Both took umbrage to being asked to apologize for saying what they could not prove and each garnered some sympathy, based more on the loudness of their cries than the visibility of any inflicted occupational wounds.
Goalposts continue to be moved by those playing football in, and with, the press. Definitions of Press Freedom and Freedom of Speech continue to vary according to need, interpreted more as Freedoms to Do and Say Anything than as valued freedoms to be exercised with due care and responsibly.
As in every Election Year, political battle lines have again been drawn over press issues not worth a fight. Just when people started calling on the media here to start to play a median role in the lead-up to what it continues to remind us is a very crucial poll, the usual players started gaming in the name of the supposed silly season.
Media people who refuse to read or understand local press laws continue to fowl-up big time on- and off-air, saying and doing things that reveal a sorry lack of appreciation of the similarities and differences between libel, slander and defamation, between sub-judice and contempt of court. They also erroneously believe that the First Amendment of the US Constitution can come to their constitutional defense in a local court.
The pontificators of purity want to have their cake and eat it. They keep breaking the law and spitting in the face of their own claims to impartiality by declaring war on a government and ruling party they claim is unfairly preventing them from hauling its feet over the coals. But nowhere is the role of the press only about keeping its eyes on governments and politicians.
Those guided by that misleading belief always end up begging and looking for trouble, then appealing for help when it comes. They throw stones first, then complain about disproportionate response when legal ballistic missiles come flying their way. They try to assassinate characters with blank shots – and expect the attacked to be generous, tempered and forgiving in response. They blindly accuse perceived unhelping hands of selling out. And those who dare say they have no reason to feel threatened by any government are termed Judases.
I have always defended my right to work without my political affiliations being held against me. I am always seen, heard and treated differently by successive nomadic journeymen laying transit claim to landlordism over the local Fourth Estate. But I have survived them all. They start battles they cannot fight and wars they simply cannot win. They patently ignore socio-economic factors that matter most to most – and feel quite at home sizzling in the sauciness of finger-pointing about rape and suicide, child pregnancy, sex offender registers, evil spirits, obeah and voodoo. They discourage youth from wanting to become politicians, but (publicly) behave in ways that encourage no one to want to become even a farm labourer on the Fourth Estate.
For the media association here today to be anything to its members, it must become more than just a mutual admiration club. It must serve all its members all the time. It must not be so selective in what and whose causes it chooses to stand for and when. Its members must feel they belong to something worth their while. They must want to attend its meetings. Those who are not members should be made to wish they were.
But I do not get the impression that the association today is one that any more than its present membership would regret they were not yet associated with.
Perhaps they have not been given reason to want to be made to feel guilty by association?