Op-ed: PM’s remarks a threat to the Fourth Estate

Op-ed: PM’s remarks a threat to the Fourth Estate

“Freedom of the press is a precious privilege that no country can forego.” – Mahatma Gandhi 

Bahamians were both shocked and embarrassed by recent comments made by the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. As details of the infamous interview were reported by media houses, many questioned the logic behind the PM’s unwarranted rebuke of the Fourth Estate. It was a new low for the nation’s leader and the governing PLP. Again, the question must be asked: Who is advising the PM? Is he unraveling before our very eyes? Are the responsibilities of the office too much for the PM and is this why he is always travelling to avoid them?

Defiant and Unapologetic 

It was clear from his defense of the PLP’s campaign tactic of weaponizing the crime statistics in 2012, that Davis was the mastermind and orchestrator of this bad political move as Deputy Leader of the PLP at the time. A move that can only be attributed to the lust and desperation for power only hurt the nation and not the political party in power at the time. As the PM recently pointed out, this is now in the past, albeit it remains a part of his political history and legacy. It is also a testament to the fact that where he stands on an issue depends on where he sits.

When confronted about his exercise of poor judgment in displaying those murder numbers on billboards, Davis missed an opportunity to apologize for his ill-advised actions, which were detrimental to our country’s reputation in general and the country’s number one industry in particular. In displaying the unfavorable statistics in public and areas frequented by tourists, Davis took direct aim at the tourism goose and put the livelihoods of Bahamians at risk. 

Buckling under pressure

The soundbite from the PM’s recent speech and interview on the crime crisis was not reassuring or comforting to the masses who look to their leader in times of turmoil. The posture, tone, body language and comments from PM Davis painted the picture of a political leader overwhelmed and intimidated by the demands of leadership. The PM seems to be buckling under the pressure of governance.

After assembling one of the largest public relations teams in Bahamian history, the PM realizes that PR is not a substitute for good governance and real-life solutions. Simply put, not every event or story can be spun, and the facts are always the facts. This should have been apparent in failed attempts by the Office of the Prime Minister to clean up or rewrite historical documented information. The best PR team can only manufacture stories and deflect or obfuscate the facts for so long before the truth rises to the surface.

Misplaced priorities 

The PM is clearly focusing on the wrong things, and his priorities are twisted. Instead of seeking to direct the layout of newspapers and the location of stories within our dailies, the nation’s chief should focus on the underlying issues at hand. We need viable, multifaceted solutions and all hands on deck to stem this crime wave. The media is not responsible for the high number of homicides. If there are no homicides, the media will not make them up or report on them. We are at this juncture because our beloved nation of 400,000 people is in a crime crisis, with 25 murders for the year. We must always remember that these are not statistics; they were our sons and daughters taken away from families left to grieve their losses.

A seemingly innocuous admonition to the media masks an underlying motive by the government to control the narrative by any means necessary. This is a slippery slope and a threat to our democracy. While members of the media have pushed back against the PM’s suggestion, the message has been sent in a passive-aggressive manner, and there is no doubt about the government’s stance. In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “a free press is one of the pillars of democracy”. We must guard the pillars of our democracy and the infrastructure that preserves our freedoms. 

The Boss of Journalism 

In the lead-up to the 2021 general election, there were speculations and insinuations that the PLP had sought to buy out or silence media houses, journalists, talk show hosts, and radio personalities. These accusations were only amplified following the PLP’s victory at the polls with the resignations and government appointments of members of the press corps.

Despite the significant attrition within the Fourth Estate and the aggressive recruitment of individuals from the media, a number of veteran journalists stood firm, and a new group of aspiring professionals were engaged to fill the gap left by the new foreign and public servants hired by the Davis-led administration. Those who labor daily on the vineyard of the Fourth Estate understand, like Robert Armstrong of the Financial Times, that “Your only real boss in journalism is the story. It’s trying to tell the truth.” Davis was not a journalist when he defended his position and accused the then-FNM government of trying to suppress the truth. It is, however, offensive and insulting to real journalists when a politician acts like their boss and tries to direct them on how to do their jobs or on what page to report their stories. Even more concerning is the PM implying that local media is being unpatriotic and intentionally setting out to hurt a country we all love just because they are doing their jobs. An unreserved apology is warranted.

Censoring social media next?

The level of disconnection from the realities of the 21st Century was magnified in a moment that will not be remembered as one of our PM’s finest moments. In the age of social media and instant messaging, news travels quickly across constituencies and national borders. Mainstream media continues to be the guardian of decency in published images and stories but this is not the case for posts made on social media.

In the aftermath of the PM’s utterances, Bahamians are left to wonder whether the censorship of social media is next on the agenda of the Davis-led administration. Ironically, the media and social media were the same platforms that the PLP used to get its message across to the electorate during the 2021 general election campaign. Indeed, what a difference two years and some months make. The media is only a force for good when it is convenient and serves the purpose of the PLP.

Rejection of tyranny

Thomas Jefferson must have been thinking of speeches of the kind delivered by PM Davis when he postulated that “When the speech condemns a free press, you are hearing the words of a tyrant.” All right-thinking Bahamians, regardless of political affiliation, must understand what is at stake in this discourse. We are experiencing a veiled attack on the freedoms that our forefathers and foremothers fought so hard to obtain. 

The stifling of the media is often a precursor to the creation of an authoritarian society. A government that does not want to be held accountable is one that abhors checks and balances. As demonstrated in their stance on the Freedom of Information Act, Fiscal Responsibility Act, and Procurement Act, this PLP administration simply has an unorthodox aversion to transparency and accountability. There is still time for the government to change course and demonstrate its commitment to democratic principles. In the meantime, they can rest assured that the Bahamian people will reject any form of tyranny.

Written by: Arinthia S. Komolafe