NASSAU, BAHAMAS – House Speaker Halson Moultrie yesterday suggested mainstream media standards were threatening the country’s democracy as he bashed the fourth estate and social media for “fake news” and “yellow journalism”.
Doubling down on last week’s ruling on cell phone use in Parliament, Moultrie declared that journalists must “conform or be gone” in his nearly 30-minute rebuke of Bahamian media.
He pointed to gaffes by local dailies over the years, and tabled newspaper articles and other documents to support his damning assessment – which he said was shared by participants of the 19th annual Youth Parliament.
He said young people expressed “grave concern in the rise of cyber bullying and the proliferation of fake news”.
“Our next generation, condemned social media and the mainstream media for engaging in such demeaning and negative practices,” he said.
“Our nation’s young people were unanimous in their rejection of this disingenuous, dishonest and democratically threatening form of yellow journalism.”
Last week, Moultrie ordered a Nassau Guardian reporter’s phone be seized and any video recording deleted after he alleged she was caught panning her phone around the room.
In defense of his ruling, the house speaker insisted media organizations have “descended” the quality and accuracy of reporting standards.
“Regrettably I find it necessary again today to engage in the exercise of informing the media on matters that should be obvious and on information that is available at a click of the mouse,” he said yesterday.
“…The Parliament operates on four levels of rules – the constitution, the Power and Privileges Act, the Rules of Procedure, and like powers of the Speaker of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. These combined with practices, govern the rules, practices and traditions of this institution.”
Moultrie noted he received information from “a very senior and most respected member” who advised him the Nassau Guardian reporter wanted to meet with him to apologize.
However, Nassau Guardian executive editor Candia Dames said in a Facebook post the claim is “not true”.
In the days following the ruling, Deputy Speaker of the House Don Saunders and former House Speaker Dr. Kendal Major insisted they would have handled the matter differently.
For his part, Major said he received calls from four journalists seeking “red meat” over Moultrie’s comments. While he was careful not to directly criticize his successor, Major categorized the ruling as “over the top”.
Yesterday, Moultrie said he was compelled to respond.
“If journalists want flesh and blood, they are going after the wrong person,” the house speaker said.
“If they want flesh and blood, they need Jesus. Jesus is the one whose flesh was broken and whose blood was shed.
“Now I have no difficulty with journalists going after me because I am prepared to lead them to Jesus. While I am saying this, I wish to caution honorable members to avoid short-term benefits that may satisfy the moment.”
Moultrie pointed to longstanding issues with the rules of the House and urged the Rules and Business Committee to meet to address them.
“I have no personal preference with the amount of access given to the press in the halls of Parliament,” he continued.
“If the Rules and Business Committee meets and decides that the press access should be full and complete, I will enforce that rule as dispassionately as I am enforcing the rule presently in existence.”
However, in order to understand the logic behind those rules, Moultrie said, “we must sink the shaft of our inquiry deep into the mind of true history”.
Moultrie accused members of the media of equating their privilege in Parliament, with that of elected members.
“They ascribe to themselves privileges exclusive to members without the slightest effort to arrive at what the correct position must be,” he continued.
“It seems they are no longer able to distinguish their privilege extended as a courtesy, from that of a member whose privileges are enshrined.
“And what is incredible about this is that members take no issue with it – for the time being.
Moultrie said: “This is not an issue of muzzling the press and or censorship of the media. This is an issue of the media respecting and conforming to rules and regulations.
“As presiding officer of this honorable house, the chair’s position in this regard is, you either conform or you will be gone. That is the position of this chair. I intend to uphold the rules.”
Moultrie added press restrictions were more severe in other commonwealth parliaments, in comparison to The Bahamas.
He underscored Parliament did not need the media because it has its own Hansard for print and Parliamentary Channel for broadcast.
“We must as a Parliament enjoy the exclusivity when it comes to the release of information from this chamber,” he said.
“…This institution must maintain the standards, and the speaker is obligated to protect the privileges of the members of this House.”