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Antigua in Focus with Dr Isaac Newton

Media censorship and the politics of  Caribbean

A political beast is showing traces of discomfort, far too grotesque for Caribbean democracy. In silence or occasional uproar, the media is struggling to maintain its independence against powerful political figures.

The power of the beast, without the beauty of the media, equals, a sagging democracy. Ironically, the media can be a powerful beast, and politicians can become, beast with power.

Is the Titanic of media resistance greeting the iceberg of politics, bent on usurping media influence? Navigating this political landscape can be as dangerous as it can be rewarding.

How media personnel go about the responsible task of quenching the overreach of power by political leaders, will determined the flourishing of freedom or its decade in the future.

In some islands, Turks and Caicos for example, the government has embarked upon what some would describe as an indirect need to control the media, via introducing its own communications systems and protocols.

It is alleged that Journalists outside of the official press are not allowed free reign to go about the business of reporting the news, without having to conform to superimposed rules and regulations. The underlying intent by the government appears solely; to filter the message by gate keeping procedural access to what some consider, public information.

Of course, the government may very well offer an alternative perspective, but the deeper implications of these official communications protocols, cannot be denied or eluded. They have the unintended or deliberate impact, real or symbolic, of media surveillance, control, indirect editing and gagging.

A Challenge to the Media

The Caribbean media needs to be an objective voice powered by the task to educate the public regardless of political overreach. Some politicians realize that sections of the media are so closely aligned to one political party that they have to operate with secrecy and high suspicion when relating to them.

The media cannot afford to be so political that it cannot be fair, moral and objective.  The media comes to the public with an implicit and sometimes explicit agenda. It needs to reveal precisely who it is in bed with, to expand and encourage an open society.

Should the media fail to establish a moral high ground of reasonable independence; it cannot expect some politicians to relate transparently. Unfortunately, very few media houses can boast of being truly independent and richly educational institutions.

Not surprisingly then, anytime politicians go after the media for real cases of irresponsible reporting, the media hides behind anti-democratic phobias, and victim hood status.

Some segments of the media in the Caribbean can be terribly irresponsible in looking for headlines. Where there are no serious headlines, the media creates one.  The media’s role of educating the public cannot be reduced to simply exposing politicians’ downfall.  Journalists’ democratic responsibilities are broader than that.

It is difficult for the media to remain objective, particularly when some media players are faithful, mindless yes Sayers. They receive political favors and privileges. They defend preferred political agendas blindly.

They never take a moral and public stance for social justice.  They snuggle up to narrow self-interests disregarding, the independence of the press. They compete with each other over meager resources, not truth seeking; and they flatly betray their own profession.

Notably, some journalists would go as far as to admit publicly, that they are ardent but objective supporters of the government. They make claims that they would be the first to condemn the ruling administration, should evidence pointing to political mismanagement emerge.

Yet, they display overwhelming evidence of blind support but not a single instance of critique against governmental shameful misdeeds. These journalists want to eat their cake and have it, but are the first to condemn those who deservingly criticize the state, as wanting to have their cakes and eat.

Educating citizens to better their lives not to manipulate their minds should be the media’s aim. As the media comes to terms with its inherent power to shape people’s beliefs systems, and define their interpretations of social and political realities, the media should safeguard this important task. To exploit its inherent power is dangerous.  Only by being instruments of mass education will the media fulfill its democratic ideals.

Towards A Culture of Self-Censorship

Politicians and the press may need to rethink their stand off positions. They can learn to debunk several myths and concentrate on self-review and resolve.

The myth of the all too powerful political figure is retiring permanently in the Caribbean. This near death dogma merits a celebrated funeral. Generally accepted, is the conviction that political leaders, have as much power as the people grant them.

Nevertheless, some elected officials use morality, to justify and disguised unethical behaviors, and unfair political actions. They know that they are ultimately accountable and responsible to the people; thus, some veil this vulnerability, by promoting a bloated sense of importance.

A posture of self-importance is another myth worth destroying.  At core, these politicians are afraid the media will burst their self-created power bubble, by placing them under the light of public scrutiny.

Media myths are equally dangerous. They deserve critical query. A dominant myth is that the media is always under attack. To maintain this myth is to leave plenty of room for the media to be prejudice and ill disciplined, irresponsible and one-sided. Another myth is the notion of the media being an independent actor. When examined closely, this notion, rages with borderline mythical intensity.

Historically, the media in the Caribbean has been always beholden to some political and economic allegiances. Ulterior motives and biases inform media output and imperil the ethos of news making. Media myths have a discrediting effect on the objectivity of the media and evoke the politics of scandal and outrage, against the media.

There are two prevailing responses to political and media myths.  Because politicians are aware of how back door media alliances tilt news reporting, many do not hold some media houses in high esteem. In turn, many media houses show alarming disdain for selected politicians. Without any redeeming good for Caribbean societies, media objectivity is being crucified on a political cross, and political goodwill is dying on the table of media bias.

Both sides must thrive to create a clear and convincing environment where responsible, transparent and honest communications is possible. Politicians and the press should not be acquitted from exercising mutual regard for each other. They should refrain from abusing diverse myths; and reduce turf wars. This approach is likely to downsize venomous and discrediting relations.

Harvesting the notion that the media and politicians should value self-censorship is a postmodern ideal. Enlightened societies are leaning more and more towards expanded ideas of civil liberties entitlements. They view domains of power as relative and contextual not overwhelming and uncontrollable.

The bigger question is, are politicians and the media sufficiently mature, to take ethical responsibility for their actions, and do they have the necessary tools and training to accomplish self-regulating goals? Do both sides have the requisite structures for induced remedy?

In the Caribbean, politicians and the press must set sights on impartiality and resilience by nurturing healthy environments, good for public morale and regional productivity.

P.S. No part of this article must be published or reproduced without the verbal or written consent of the author. 

Dr. Isaac Newton

International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development.

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