“A RESPONSIBLE PRESS” KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY MOST HON. P. J. PATTERSON
“A RESPONSIBLE PRESS”
MOST HON. P. J. PATTERSON, ON, OCC,PC,QC
2ND ANNUAL BAHAMAS PRESS CLUB
BRITISH COLONIAL HILTON
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2016
Always a pleasure to be in The Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
Your kind invitation gives me good reason to be here.
There was that time in life when we needed no excuse – invitation or no invitation. We came and did not always leave when expected – but we never overstayed our welcome.
Learn to say no – advice from a former Prime Ministerial colleague.
Those who believe you should be quick to say yes – and give thanks at every invitation to show you are still alive and have not been forgotten.
For an active politician, this could be like Daniel entering the Lion’s Den.
The prophet kept them at bay –
You will have to make a speech.
Speech At Banquet
Delivering a speech at a banquet on the night of his arrival in a large city, a visiting minister told several anecdotes he intended to repeat at meetings the next day. Because he wanted to use the jokes again, he requested the reporters to omit them from any accounts they might turn in to their newspapers.
A cub reporter, in commenting on the speech, ended his piece with the following: “The minister told a number of stories that cannot be published.”
Food was the earliest subject of communication between Homo Sapiens:
(i) Began Cave Paintings which gave advice on plants and animals that were safe for eating.
Other forms emerged soon after.
(ii) Then came Drumming: In African tradition, drumming has played an important role in every aspect of life. Today, African hand drums are still played to communicate, celebrate, mourn and inspire. They’re played in times of peace and war, planting and harvesting, birth and death.
(iii) Smoke signals were used by many cultures, including Native American to communicate over long distances.
(iv) In Medieval England, town cries were the chief means of news communication with the townspeople, where many of the folk were illiterate in a period before the moveable type was invented. Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, even selling loaves of bread were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier.
Centuries ago, Greek Playwright Sophocles wrote: “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news”
Shakespeare expressed this same sentiment in Anthony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra when told by a messenger that Anthony had married another, threatened to treat the messenger’s eyes as balls – eliciting the response “Gracious madam, I that bring the news made not the match.”
I am sure that many members of the media here have experienced equally aggressive responses when you are forced to report bad news or unfavourable stories.
But it is your job to give the news, good or bad and the right to receive as well as disseminate accurate and timely information. Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of your craft.
Those who write the headlines must master that peculiar skill which attract just attention – but they can often be misleading, confusing or pedantic.
1. Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says – really?
2. Miners refuse to Work after Death
3. War Dims Hope for Peace – cryptic
4. Red Tape holds Up New Bridges
5. Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft – Wow
6. Kids – Make Nutritious Snacks – Cannibals?
Before proceeding further, let me warmly congratulate the government and people of the Bahamas on your first-rate telecommunications infrastructure that makes up-to-date information accessible to your population across the archipelago.
The Bahamas has a proud record of press freedom and deserves our highest commendation in that regard.
Public discourse, vigorous and open discussion are essential to the preservation of your thriving democracy.
It is well established that the Press, the Fourth Estate, plays a unique role in the promotion of human rights, protecting our fundamental freedoms. It is essential to engender good governance, public accountability and transparency.
To perform this Task, it is entitled to ready access – not as a favour, but as a right. Without this, it is prone to leaks (often unreliable and self-centred) or speculation which could prove harmful to the national interest.
It is for this reason that my Administration enacted a new Freedom of Information Act which spawned a new culture of openness. That represented a quantum leap from the notion of secrecy under which the Official Secrets Act was enacted.
Media Landscape in the Bahamas
The great number and range of Bahamian media outlets that provide citizens with news, information and entertainment is truly impressive: The Nassau Guardian newspaper has been in existence since 1844, the Tribune, Freeport News, the Bahamas Journal, the tabloid Punch, all contribute to your vibrant print media sector.
Many of your media entities have digital components where audiences access media content from anywhere in the world. In one form or another, Bahamian media, including digital media, reach all Bahamian households and engage with audiences across the globe with stories and messages that inform, educate and entertain.
This is an impressive achievement on which you must build in a global society that is increasingly knowledge-based.
But that’s not all. Some of the stories, written and produced by the persons whom you honour tonight have played a distinctive role in the final outputs which have helped to shape national discourse and thereby managed to influence public policy and ensure sound governance.
These accomplishments are laudable and important media requisites in an enduring democracy.
Social Media Phenomenon
A significant number of citizens, especially our youth, are active social media participants who create, share and consume a wide array of information among themselves and across the entire world via the internet.
Over 50% of the world’s population is less than 30 years old.
Almost all millennials have joined social networks. Online news sources, social networking websites, You Tube videos and blogs have joined television and other traditional media as the main sources of public information and are connecting citizens who share similar views. These citizens are influencing each other directly, bypassing traditional media and other intermediaries. More than half of mobile non-voice traffic in the Caribbean is for Facebook. Twitter now impacts all aspects of life including cultures and national elections.
Advancements in technology are expanding the reach and influence of traditional media among all audiences and increasing the power of social media. These have facilitated a move away from a world in which few institutions and individuals create media content to one in which everyone can produce material that influences and creates a stake in both our culture and future.
But all social media or all media content are not equal. All attractively packaged and effectively distributed, shared information are not of equal value or equal worth.
Some are problematic and downright dangerous. As a result, some technological changes employed by social media, have major implications for the historical roles and responsibilities of traditional media.
Impact on Politics
A decade ago political candidates largely depended on traditional media to tell their stories, to sell their candidacies. This is no longer the case.
“The Editor” joke
The editor of a small weekly newspaper, in a rage over several government bills that had recently been passed, ran a scathing editorial under the headline: “HALF OF OUR LEGISLATORS ARE CROOKS.” Many prominent politicians were outraged, and tremendous pressure was exerted on him to retract the statement. He finally succumbed to the pressure and ran an apology with the headline: “HALF OF OUR LEGISLATORS ARE NOT CROOKS.”
Political candidates are exploiting New Media, which have rallied some of the largest populist movements the world has ever seen, including the so called Arab Spring. In the world’s largest and most robust market of America, we witness a fundamental shift in content creation and media consumption.
Eight years ago Barack Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ campaign used social media platforms to rapidly stimulate political activity and community activism. More recently, Donald Trump used social media to rally a populist movement that challenged established terms of political engagement and stoked controversy.
Did the Media – in the early stages of Primaries help?
So when 229 Newspapers endorsed his opponent
Vs 28 which supported him – it was too late?
Technological Advancements Implications
New communication technologies empower individuals and groups to do their own thing. They provide platforms for the rapid distribution of material that can sometimes undermine democracy and yield problematic outcomes. They can rapidly and frequently disseminate falsehoods, slander, intolerant views and violent ideologies. At times, these could damage national security!
CEO of FACEBOOK, Mark Zuckerberg – is now leading a campaign to determine how to prevent the spread of phony stories – or fake news.
What are the filters to prevent?
What are the remedies to those who have been maligned or irreparably damaged?
Communities, nations and the world have become more connected yet more complicated: more social yet more individualistic.
While technology creates the vehicle through which people assemble ideas, the need remains for the audience to be engaged, to be influenced, to be persuaded, and convinced.
In this age when everyone with a computer can create and publish news stories, parade as journalists, you as professionals have to clearly demonstrate that you offer something of lasting value; something that differentiates your outputs from the false pretenders.
Rights and Responsibilities
(i) to identify what makes sense amidst an avalanche of information that absolutely makes no sense, making a distinction between what is important and what is trivial and superficial.
(ii) You have a compelling duty to ferret out and tell the truth and prove that to sceptical audiences.
(iii) To inform public debate so that citizens can make educated choices to help empower citizens to act in ways that serve the greatest good.
(iv) Journalists must observe the profession’s ethical mandates: respect privacy, embrace public accountability; give voice to the voiceless and protect the vulnerable.
Why should professional journalists take these ethical mandates seriously when others are not constrained by such old-fashioned notions?
In the highly competitive media industry, speed to publish and acceleration to hit the send button are often perceived as the only goals, so why concern oneself with other objectives that appear archaic? Why bother to be accurate when sensationalism sells? When trivia trumps analysis and investigative stories prove more costly?
Being right and being credible to warrant trust are more important attributes than being first.
Amid the noise of information overload, the triple goals of credibility, accuracy, trustworthiness, still constitute the mandate for a free press in a democracy. As you celebrate this evening, never forget values that have withstood the test of time.
Never be servile or subordinate to the hue and power of filthy lucre.
Supporting Media Literacy
The amount of time that young people now spend online consuming media and other content has increased substantially. Yet our young people need help in developing the requisite media literacy skills to analyse and understand the vast array of media messages and formats they consume from disparate sources.
Traditional media practitioners need to more effectively help develop the critical thinking and analytical skills that youth and other citizens need to successfully navigate media-soaked and social media-immersed environments.
Responsible media can help consumers discern fact from fiction; truth from falsehoods; valid arguments from those that are fundamentally flawed. Responsible media must help citizens develop the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media – from social media content to musical lyrics and videos.
In doing so traditional media would have helped our citizens to ask the right questions: From whose perspective is this story told? Whose voices are heard, and whose are excluded? What strategy does this message use to get attention and to influence? Whose interests are served by this story? And to persistently ask, why, why, why?
THE FOURTH ESTATE
The original progenitors of the Bahamian Media and some of the most senior among you would be bewildered by the face of the new media landscape. But even in the light of the cataclysmic changes you can never relinquish the duties of the Fourth Estate to inform and educate.
While others pander to narrow interests and cater to personal tastes, yours must be that broader vision which reflects the panoramic view. It must promote the national ethos and yet global in perspective.
The main issues may not be sexy – but they are of critical importance to the future of mankind.
– human conflicts and the spread of terrorism
– the reality and immense global warming – climate change – which poses a severe and particular threat to the Bahamas.
Journalists, like everyone else, are entitled to their own opinion, but that does not allow you to create your own facts.
I heard of a conversation, where one lady was engaged in gossip with another.
“That is rumour”
When asked for the facts on which she relied: She quickly replied – “You need no facts to spread rumour.”
As a journalist, whether you practise in the private or public domain, let truth be your Template.
As you seek to accurately convey the news, strive also to enlighten and illuminate.
As the watchdog of the public good, and the fountain of truth, do not falter nor flinch in the discharge of your sacred duty.
– Our region is confronted with severe challenges
The imbalances which are created in the name of globalization and its consequences to countries like The Bahamas with the imposition of rules and systems, which would deny fair competition in niche areas of international financial transactions.
– How to fuel the spread of the creative industries within our regional space to encourage and expand our gifts of nature, the talents of our people in order to build the unique Caribbean civilization.
In seeking to spread the gospel, do not sacrifice your integrity or compromise your standards. Do not lower the barrier.
Finally, I urge you to insist on the training for those who seek to enter your noble profession so that the ethics are observed to permit the heightening of the consciousness and the expansion of the horizons for those who are called into your service.
This has truly been a delightful evening. The Bahamas Press Club deserves full praise for arranging an occasion where partners (not friends and foes) share the ambience we have so well enjoyed tonight.
It is a privilege to come from the pavilion to participate in this historic event.
For the very first time, working members of the local press are being recognized in this special way.
No matter what the cynics may tell you – it matters a great deal when you run and win and not simply that you completed the race. Trust me – Ask Hillary.
All of us welcome and appreciate recognition and aspire to national honours – but none is more precious than that which is extended by our peers.
Jurisdiction – Choice between Judge and Jury.
Accused: Charged with House Breaking.
Don’t want my fate to be in the hands of burglars.
So tonight’s deserving Awardees will always treasure the special accolades they receive at this Banquet. It should propel the worthy recipients as responsible Journalists, to even higher levels of excellence while together we continue the onward march on the journey to peace, freedom, justice and prosperity for all the people we serve.