Tuesday, April 16, 2024

EDITORIAL: PM must engage the press


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THE RECENT SPEECH of Prime Minister Stuart to the students of the St Bartholomew’s Primary School contained important indications of how he sees the role of the leader as being one to listen without any concomitant need to respond to everything he hears.

His comments as usual were thoughtful but may not have changed some people’s perception of him as being “silent”.

The job of a prime minister is not an easy one. He is at one and the same time a leader of the people and a servant of the very people he leads. Uneasily lies the head that wears the crown, but the acceptance of the crown brings great power and concomitant responsibilities. But always the duty to communicate from time to time with the people is a most important concern, or ought to be.

Dictators can have conversations with themselves and proceed to act on those conversations. In a democracy likes ours that is not the way. Our Prime Ministers report to Parliament and face the Opposition’s criticisms and answer them, and so the people are thereby informed of the policies and plans of their government.In our view the criticism levelled at the Prime Minister is that he has not followed the traditional pattern of occupiers of that office, who held press conferences in which they answered questions concerning the broad sweep of the government’s policies.

It is this which more than anything has led to disappointment in some quarters, and has led some to say that Mr Stuart is silent.

As part of the fourth estate, we too are concerned about the lack of regular press conferences. The press is a critical institution in this country’s governance, and over the long sweep of our country’s parliamentary system, it has kept Barbadians informed and sought to put their grievances to those temporarily in power.

Prime Ministers Barrow and Adams both held press conferences and were both able to carry the people with them, especially in their greatest moments of political turbulence.

And their successors all used communication with the people through the press to build popular support for tough but necessary measures – perhaps none more so than Erskine Sandiford (now Sir Lloyd), who used every available media opportunity to put to the public the options facing his administration at this country’s darkest moments.

Mind you, Mr Stuart has broken no law in being as restrained as he is. But that is just the point. The fourth estate is not based on any specific law as such; rather, it is another of those voluntaristic arrangements or customs by which we ascribe a special status to the press and its professionals whose job it is to mediate in a professional and ethical manner communications between the people and the politicians.

While he recognises the role and function of the press, the Prime Minister is entitled to deal with matters as he sees fit, and to fashion and refashion the office as he reasonably thinks he must. But recent phenomena allow fake news which can undermine democracies to be published, as if it were true and gullible minds may swallow the baseless babble. Open and honest communication between a government and its people can counter this evil practice. We understand the Prime Minister’s perspective, but are unalterably of the view that our democracy requires more frequent contact between the press and the leader of this country. A press conference is an invaluable tool in any democracy.


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