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PRESS CLUB STATEMENT…

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discount viagra stuff times;”>Remarks by
Fred Mitchell MP

Minister Of Foreign Affairs

Remarks at the Press Club Meeting

Hilton Hotel, #1 Bay Street
Nassau, Bahamas

Sunday 8th February 2015
 

I am pleased to be here this afternoon.
 
I wish to congratulate all of you who are journalists or work in the media for getting the Press Club going again.

There have been many incarnations. Ace Newbold has been a part of many of them. I know that Ed Bethel, our now High Commissioner, was once involved as was the late P. Anthony White.  I am not sure why the past attempts foundered in the past but I suspect it may have had to do with being over ambitious in what could be accomplished.

The press as it was constituted in those days and still is to a large extent today, is owned by large corporations. The journalists do not own the corporations and so cannot set policy. Anyone then who sought to address claims of bias, or coverage could not get redress by resort to the press association.

The Press Association was really, and I suspect still is, a professional association for the development of the profession and the opportunities for those in the field. It can include people from all media and I think it should include even professional public relations specialists.

I think once there is an understanding of what that is, “professional development,” and it sticks to that remit then I think it can be a success.

I make the point of being dedicated to professional development in contra distinction to being a union. A union’s main job is to fight with an individual employer on terms and conditions of work including pay.  A professional association might deal with these as a generality on a philosophical basis but is not involved in pay issues and terms of work.

Under professional development, I would list: training opportunities, exchange opportunities, working with other international and local professional bodies on general education and development issues;  working on bias issues such as gender and LGBT issues around the world; inviting important speakers of note from this country and around the world, including the owners of media in the country; raising monies to educate young journalists in the profession and mentoring them and  providing social opportunities for people in the profession to mix and mingle. That is quite a hefty list.

I wish you well in your work.

Some people are interested in me personally and my own history so I can share some of that information with you. I started out in this profession. I was 16 when I left high school and went straight to work first as a messenger at the Bahamas Tourist News Bureau which also handled the work for what was then called Government Information Services and trained there out of high school to write. There was no Bahamas Information Services at that time. Cyril Stevenson, the former MP, who had lost his bid for election in 1967 against Sir Lynden Pindling and who had run the PLP’s newspaper The Herald was hired to run the Government Information Service Division at the Bahamas Tourist News Bureau. William Kalis, a man who was part of the McCann Ericson PR group out of New York was hired by Sir Lynden to run the Bahamas Tourist News Bureau.  Later, the Government Information Services became by act of Parliament in 1974 the Bahamas Information Services.  The Bahamas Tourist News Bureau became a private company called the Counsellors Ltd.

I started there at 16 and worked my way up through university as a part timer and eventually took a job as a radio producer at the Bahamas Information Services in 1974. The main product that I worked on was the Ministry of Agriculture’s extension programme called The Primary Producers with a man named J. Vibart Wills.

In 1977 prior to the Queen’s Visit to open Parliament in Nassau, then Prime Minister Lynden Pindling asked me to move to the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas to help television which had just begun in Nassau that summer to prepare for the Queen’s visit. I also ran the Public Affairs Division of the corporation and was formally appointed Director of Public Affairs in August 1978 and later Director of News and Public Affairs at the age of 23.

I should say that during the 1977 campaign, having lost my bid for the nomination for the Centreville seat against one Perry Christie, I was also the drafter of his first speech for radio broadcast in the 1977 general election. It was drafted in my small office at the top of Curry House on a manual typewriter and by long hand in the Victoria Gardens. I mention that because that began a life time of speech writing for not only him but almost if not all of the leaders of the country including former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham. This is another work opportunity for people who are trained in journalism or media work.

I mention that because I read somewhere that the former Minister Loftus Roker said that I was involved in marching against his policies on immigration. I do not recall that at all. I was his speech writer up to the time of his demitting office in 1987 so I hardly think that is possible. However, his recollections might be entirely different from mine.

I did not obtain a degree in journalism but rather a general English Literature degree and then was trained on the job in the profession.

I would say that what propelled me out of it was that I was interested in politics and it was not possible to be a journalist and be an active politician and make a living. So ultimately after a lot of soul searching I changed professions in 1983 and switched to law.
 
I ran the PLP’s newspaper The Herald from 1981 to 1983 when I handed it off to the late Mark Beckford to whom I dedicate this appearance today. He was really a brilliant journalist and died too soon. I remember him always and look always to see his resting place when I visit the Woodlawn Cemetery. One day I would like to endow a prize for journalism in his name.

I began writing a column in 1976 for The Herald and later expanded that in the new Herald to a column called The World Stage on international affairs.

I used to write a column for the Nassau Guardian when I ran into trouble with its management over my views and I then started my own personal column on the web, now described as a blog called fredmitchelluncensored.com and later in 2002 under new editors it became bahamasuncensored.com. The latter does not reflect any official view whether personal or formal.

The web was a welcomed development because as you now know anyone can be a publisher. This has changed the landscape of journalism for the better. This is where one can look at how the profession has changed from being owned by large companies as opposed to being managed by individuals. The web can be managed by individuals and so it gives more power to the citizen. That is the great step forward in this modern time.

When I was a boy or a young politician, if you wanted to get a message out, you had to go to ZNS, the only station and pay for a community announcement.  You called a press conference and there were three entities: ZNS, The Tribune and The Guardian. That was a blessing and a curse.

That changed in 1992 when the laws permitted private broadcasting. Some argue that this freed the air waves and in  one sense it did, but free it for what is what you ask yourself these days. There is a marked consolidation going on in the market so that you don’t have a spread of owners but instead you have a smaller number of owners and monopolistic competition amongst those owners. You have The Tribune group and The Guardian group. Private monopolies are just as bad as public ones. That is why the web remains the most potent and important voice for freedom in our democracy today.  No one today has the difficulty of getting their opinions heard and we must fight to keep it that way.

That is again where a professional body like this can come in to work with URCA and the public officials to ensure internet access for the public at a standard of speed throughout our entire country at an affordable price.  Similarly, the fight for a telephone system which has the same access and standards of clarity throughout the country is important.  It is simply unacceptable for some parts of the country to have no access to internet and telephonic services of sufficient clarity and regularity.

In terms of professional work in the media, that is largely the media of record. This means the Nassau Guardian, The Tribune, the Bahama Journal and their broadcasting affiliates and the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas.

I would like to draw attention to the need for a code of professional and ethical conduct which can be drawn by a body such as this. The only sanction you have for violating such a code is the social pressure of the condemnation of your colleagues. This includes matters like when conversations are off the record or on background; when it is permissible to tape a conversation with someone on the phone or elsewhere; when it is permissible to be the writer of a story if you are too close personally to a story.

Then there is the question of balance. This morning I read the editorial of the Freeport News and it was calling for balance in the immigration policy. I assure the policy is balanced. I also assure you that any governmental policy is always a balancing act by its very nature. But does not the same standard applies to a newspaper covering and questioning civic activists who say the most outrageous things and no objective organization has called them to account.

The Grand Bahama Human Rights Association and the Nassau Institute for example. Who are these organizations? As far as anyone can tell, there are two people publicly connected with each and recently in the case of the human rights association three. Yet they push above their weight in cyber space and access to public columns without questioning their authenticity, their bona fides and their accuracy.

I have said this many times.  The Immigration Department of The Bahamas has been accused of “institutional terrorism.” When that did not work, it was accused of “ethnic cleansing” which is a crime against humanity. When that did not work, they were accused of running Auschwitz in The Bahamas; that was the Nazi gas chamber. There is no evidence of any of that. Yet these wild unfounded claims have been repeated over and again without anybody challenging the assertion that a crime against humanity has been committed in this country and there has been none by the Department of Immigration. There has been none and there is no evidence of any. So perhaps there ought to be some balance brought there.
 
That is as far as I would stray then into editorial advice because I do not think that reporters have a say on what actually makes in to the newspaper. That is the decision of your bosses

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. It is simply meant to sensitize you to that fact.
 
In speaking to one of your bosses, I have called for a public editor to deal with complaints from the public on the way matters are covered in the press. I must confess that this is a device which is utilized by the New York Times, a paper which I had a great deal of respect for. However, our recent experience with regard to the coverage on immigration matters, and their refusal to admit that their story was simply wrong does not offer much further hope even in that direction. They did run a correction which they called an “editing error” but once that “editing error” was admitted the whole house of cards collapsed. The least I would have expected is that the full position of the government of The Bahamas would have been put. I know that is what the press here would have done.
 
Finally, I would make a personal plea to writers in the press to always remember the rule of the upside down pyramid. When I was taught journalism, it was the rule of thumb: the most important part of the story is at the top and then down to the least important. In the first paragraph you put who, what, when, where and why.
 
These days, I read stories and it only has “he said”, “she said.”
 
As the Jamaicans like to say: “a beg yuh”.
 
I wish you well in your careers.
 
Thank you very much indeed.