Proving that one bad example, set in one place, is always liable to be followed elsewhere in the Caribbean, the Barbados Central Bank last week decreed that journalists from that country’s Nation newspaper are no longer to attend the bank’s news conferences and other media events. In an episode that undermines Barbados’ standing as a Caribbean beacon of democratic practice, its Central Bank presumed upon its authority to declare a major newspaper persona non grata for purposes of its public activities.
The episode put the spotlight on Central Bank Governor DeLisle Worrell, described as the leading economic adviser to Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. Dr Worrell’s ire was stirred by a May 8 Nation front-page headline, “60 To Go”, that apparently overstated the number of job cuts contemplated by the Central Bank.
As it conceded in a correction on the following day, the Nation had got the figure wrong. But job losses at the bank, like those of more than 3,000 public servants, have been predictably on the cards, as the country continues to endure punishing economic setbacks.
Dr Worrell understandably took the headline badly. Nor did the correction assuage any of his hurt.
Righteous rage found expression in a blunt letter to the Nation’s publisher that condemned the “lack of professional integrity manifest” in the offending headline. And in a manner recalling the all-inclusive presumption of a colonial governor of the island, Dr Worrell issued his banning directive against journalists of the Nation and its sister publication: “Nation/Sun staff will not be invited to any future press conference or media event hosted by myself as Governor of the Central Bank.”
Observers of Caribbean government-media relations will recognise a precedent in a ruling by Trinidad and Tobago’s President’s House authorities to debar one reporter’s attendance at media events. The reporter’s offence had apparently consisted of putting out-of-place questions to the majesty of the T&T head of state.
The T&T banning response had evidently not been condemned to the extent necessary. Short months later, and soon after World Press Freedom Day, Dr Worrell took it upon himself to proscribe not just a single reporter, but an entire media house.
Such over-reaction did not pass unnoticed in Barbados. Opposition Leader Mia Mottley voiced outrage at the “rash” and “dictatorial” act by Worrell to ban Nation/Sun journalists from Central Bank events. Ms Mottley, an attorney, argued that Dr Worrell lacked either the right or the power to ban any journalist or media house.
A Nation editorial appropriately queried whether the ban extended to coverage of a Central Bank-sponsored concert by the Mighty Sparrow later this month. Dr Worrell should know that such a sense of the ridiculous, prompted by his ban, is widely shared across the Caribbean.