Jamaican events, as reported in the Saint Lucian press, tend either to be murderous and watch-your-step ominous—or simply wonderful beyond imagination. Remember how delirious were our soi-disant “media workers” about Usain Bolt’s miraculous footwork at the London Games? We went so far as to declare him an inadvertent unpaid endorser of what demonstrably Saint Lucians themselves least care for: Saint Lucian food!
Now consider the coverage given Jamaica’s second most notorious product. He was reportedly considered, if only in Kingston, something of a Caribbean Robin Hood, with thousands of poor and deprived fellow countrymen dependent on him for housing, food and protection from uniformed bad guys with big guns.
It was altogether another story throughout the rest of the region, the United States and even the UK, where the respective media portrayed him as his country’s Mr. Big Stuff, more powerful by far than even the Jamaica government.
It was not so subtly implied that the nation’s highest-ranking officials took their orders from this man who, though relatively diminutive, was not to be trifled with. By all the media reported here and elsewhere, the police gave him a wide berth—for reasons ranging from self-preservation to misplaced loyalty.
When the Jamaican authorities demonstrated a reluctance to extradite him by United States demand and, as they say, the sticky brown stuff predictably hit the fan, the accused gang leader extraordinaire, Escobar-like drug trafficker, gunrunner and extortionist Christopher Coke instantly became worldwide the epitome of Caribbean manhood. Meanwhile, throughout the region Bruce Golding was the most talked about leader of government, more talked about even than the Reverend Al Green’s ‘I’m So In Love With You’ White House alter ego!
Details of Coke’s inevitable arrest and the consequent loss of Jamaican lives were widely reported at home and elsewhere including Saint Lucia, the last mentioned with its own ironic twist. With elections in the air, at least one local politician was purposefully linked with the Jamaican when supposedly he was a fugitive.
One report, unproved but still very much alive, suggested Coke had eluded Americans surveillance and somehow made his incident-free way to borderless Saint Lucia where he stayed for several days safely ensconced at the home of one of our most conspicuous politicians. His name was never actually spoken by media personnel but was nevertheless on the lips of every detractor that managed to get through to a talk-show host—some of the callers from his own party!
Meanwhile at home we were not without own headline-worthy occurrences. But rather than pursuing them, local media personnel chose instead to echo whatever the duelling politicians had placed before them. Which is to say, the credibility of the obvious propaganda depended not on verifiable fact but on which party was more efficient at delivering its tales by hook or by crook. There were shocking scoops centered on United States visa revocations, with rascally mutilations of carefully worded statements by visiting embassy officials. There were wild on-air speculations about alleged police executions, cops allegedly operating according to the dictates of a particular politician, and conveniently cited State Department cables, distributed courtesy Wikileaks.
All were permitted free daily airtime, even though none of the reports had resulted from meticulous investigation by a responsible press. Sadly, it appeared the once widely praised and respected Saint Lucia media had become, as it were, conduits for bald political propaganda. Political private dancers for money!
Of course, the most important story of the famous American oilman Jack Grynberg’s control of the Saint Lucia seabed was left to just one newspaper. The rest of the media seemed content merely to provide platforms for every hack, regardless of how obviously misinformed and speculative their contributions. Meanwhile, the prime minister was permitted to maintain his decade-long silence on the highly controversial issue with all its explosive economic implications.
Not even when the House speaker had shockingly announced his unchallengeable decision—on the ground of possible sub judice—not to permit statements in the privileged House that related to the American’s continuing control of what could turn out to be our most precious resource was the local media tempted to blow the lid off the particular Pandora’s Box. To this day the press remains as ever quiescent on the Grynberg front. Conceivably local media workers had collectively decided it best to wait until the issue has at great cost to this broke nation been settled one way or another by an ICSID tribunal, expected to sit before the year is out. Doubtless, the story will then be featured in scores of other newspapers, oil-related journals and websites the world over, in the process rendering local coverage less encumbered by the fear of litigation. And now my usual critics, heads buried deep in the sand, from which position they are best able to understand me too quickly, are asking: “Where is he going with all of this? That’s an old story.”
It is time now to put them out of their misery. The above expressed thoughts were triggered by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres announcement this week that in 2012 politically corrupt Jamaica—yes, Dudas’ fearsome Jamaica!—beat out all other countries in the western hemisphere for, of all things, press freedom, replacing Canada. Says the RSF report, Trinidad & Tobago, which was ranked 44th, still “has not stopped its illegal monitoring of journalists’ phone calls and attempts to identify their sources although it promised to stop in 2010.”
Meanwhile, the seven-member Organization of East Caribbean States—that’s us, folks—fell eight places to 34th because of “often direct pressure from the political authorities on news media and the failure to move ahead with the decriminalization of defamation.” This week the STAR was, not surprisingly, accused of having engaged in political mischief for having published what the paper referred to as an “unconfirmed” story about an imminent resignation from the government, supplied to us by a “usually reliable source.” The minister in question was not identified, neither was the smallest hint for his resignation provided.
By the time the story reached us late Tuesday evening, all but one page of the paper had been printed. Our last-minute cautious queries were treated to responses most ambiguous. No matter, we considered the information from a reliable informant important enough to pass on to STAR readers, with the clear warning that time had not permitted our own usual confirmation. Long after we went to press we received certain documented information that appeared to have come from an official overseas source and if authentic could be cause for a public official’s resignation on ethical grounds. We were not the only recipients of the cited documents. But even though the minister has since identified himself on TV, it seems his only motivation was to deny widespread rumors of his impending resignation.
He has not seen the need to mention the documents that had inspired the now refuted rumors. To be fair, I am unaware that questions related to the circulated documents have been put to the minister concerned, even though they appear on at least one website. In consequence, rife speculation continues about the content of the documents, who may be behind their fabrication and distribution and a host of other related questions that in the public interest must be answered, not simply swept under the table on the basis that they might arise in connection with a pending court case. The minister is also a lawyer, after all, and knows how to avoid legal pitfalls. Government ministers owe
the country immediate responses to questions of accountability. If they refuse to be immediately accountable on the basis of pending litigation, then they should be required to relinquish office until such time as the court matter has been settled—I dare to say without loss of salary. It is simply not proper that officials continue to hold office with allegations hanging over them that they could easily dispel. There is nothing precedential about my suggestion: even as I write there are public servants sitting at home “on suspension,” paid monthly from the Consolidated Fund, while under investigation! I should also remind the press not to be unduly concerned with litigation threats by politicians. Its primary purpose is to keep the public informed, especially concerning matters of governance, including serious allegations unaccounted for.
As the dearly departed and much missed legal luminary Sir Vincent Floissac had often reminded the media, the press has no better friend than the courts when it comes to holding public officials accountable to the people. While it would be egregious to try accused citizens—including politicians—in the press, the people via the media are duty-bound to demand accountability from their elected officials. That in this particular instance the politician was not elected, that the people had, au contraire, rejected his candidacy, makes it even more important he clears the air about certain aspects of his personal history that may now be impacting his ministerial credibility.
The prime minister, who despite the election results had selected him to head one of the more important government ministries, now owes it to the nation to settle as quickly as possible this fast developing controversy. The minister’s court activities are strictly his private business, to be pursued at his leisure. Not so the business of the people that, especially in the present circumstances, demands the prompt attention of the prime minister himself. That much Dr. Anthony must’ve learned from theunforgettable Walter Francois fiasco!