Moultrie decries quality and accuracy of reporting
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie yesterday issued a damning criticism of the fourth estate in The Bahamas, charging that media organizations have “descended” the quality and accuracy of reporting standards.
He made the remark in response to Mangrove Cay and South Andros MP Picewell Forbes’ request for the speaker to remind journalists of the rules of the House from time to time.
Forbes was referencing the speaker’s decision to have any cellphone photos or videos captured by a staff reporter at The Nassau Guardian deleted.
Moultrie said the journalist used the cellphone to record proceedings without permission.
The Nassau Guardian later revealed the deleted photos, which were recovered from the cellphone, were of Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper as he contributed to debate on the bill to allow for the replacement of government-issued documents lost due to the passage of Hurricane Dorian.
Moultrie said: “I want to make this clear because I can imagine the press demonizing the speaker as the person who is trying to prevent freedom of speech, freedom of expression, but I am of the view that the media — despite all the change in technology — have descended to a level in this country that needs to be addressed.
“They are competing with social media and as a consequence a number of false reports, fake reports and opinionated stories are appearing in the newspapers and I’ve even seen on social media, videos of members of Parliament that have been taken completely out of context and other information presented on social media.
Moultrie said: “It is being done. It cannot be denied and so, we have to maintain a certain level in this chamber to protect the institution itself from that sort of infringement by unscrupulous persons because in every sector of society you will have those types of individuals and the media is not exempted from that. That has been my experience in this two and a half years.”
For his part, Forbes commended the media, noting that journalists are often attacked politically when doing their job and “standing against the status quo”.
Forbes asked the speaker to speak directly to how media professionals should operate in Parliament and what the processes are, noting there is “some level of concern about it”.
“I think Mr. Speaker, since you would have made a ruling this morning and I don’t want to rewrite what you said, but I think Mr. Speaker that as the media houses are going through changes they must then know what is the gatekeeper principle for them coming in to do work in this honorable place,” Forbes said.
“I think you need to speak to it in a very direct way. Mr. Speaker, no, let me finish making this point. I am not going to go against what you said earlier, but I am saying there are many young people and novices who [are] joining the media profession and we need you now and then to rehash what persons must do, how the process must be applied in this honorable place because there is some level of concern about it.
“I wouldn’t go further today, but Mr. Speaker I feel that at the end of the day, if we come here to this honorable place to amend laws, we must also in the 21st century Bahamas be able to look at things and how media and media developments are also changing, developing and evolving so we can be in step with what is happening around us.”
Forbes added that government has gotten the “benefit of the doubt and in many instances with the press in this country”.
He ended the point by saying while he did not want the “wrath of the chair against me today”, it is important to have “freedom to the people and freedom of speech”.
Standing on a point of order, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson defended the Free National Movement’s record and its stance on free press.
Johnson said: “This side has demonstrated its commitment to deepening the democracy by opening the airwaves and allowed for more than just one media house. And any number of my colleagues, especially those sitting in the Cabinet have made it a point to appear on the various media shows and we embrace the media and encourage them to be open, objective and to do their job in deepening this democracy.”
To Johnson, Forbes asserted the government cannot herald opening the airwaves on one hand while “pulling and gyring with the same element of freedom”.
During his brief address, Moultrie said rule 89 of the House Proceeding was implemented in 2005 amid a series of complaints by parliamentarians about “persons coming into the Parliament, taking photographs, and so on of members in embarrassing positions”.
He said the rules were also put in place to prevent cameras from focusing on parliamentarians’ documents as there were also complaints in that regard.
Ultimately, the speaker said the rules were intended to maintain “a certain decorum in the House and protect the information”.
In May, Fontella Chipman, the sister of Centreville MP Reece Chipman, made a loud outburst in the galleria, making condemning statements against the legislators.
Videos recordings of the incident were widely circulated.
Moultrie said those recordings posed a serious threat to security of the House, and he ordered the visitors must leave cell phones at the door with Royal Bahamas Police Force guards.
While rule does not apply to member of Parliament, technocrats or the media, the speaker said at the time, media will have to seek permission from the House through Chief Clerk David Forbes to capture cellphone video.
Moultrie has also said he believes the standards and level of parliamentary debates need to be raised.
Moultrie and Deputy Speaker Don Saunders were guests on Beyond the Headlines with Clint Watson last month, where they were asked if they believed the level of debate in Parliament had been dumbed down.
“Yes I do,” Moultrie said, “and that is one of the reasons why I try to function in the manner that I do.”
“I believe that we should be role models in society in Parliament,” Moultrie added.