Saturday, January 20, 2018

Put media/Govt ties under the microscope

A noted columnist raised some crucial studies that must be embarked upon when we speak about credibility and the relationships between government and the media and the relationship between the society and media.

Many believe some media are morphed and shaped according to special political, business/corporate or social interests which may not be in the best interest for the society as a whole.

What must be done to gauge the fairness of the media in terms of its account of happenings in the government and with governance with the present and former regimes should ideally, as the columnist suggested, incorporate empirical evidence/statistical data over the years on the:

(1) How many government stories are negative and how many are positive

(2) How many stories rely on official state sources (police, ministries) compared with journalist finding them

(3) How many stories cover all or reflect objectively all that is happening in all geographical locations

(4)What is the general level of education of media workers—what is the average age, career length and salary of a media worker?

We must examine the quality of journalism/mass communications/mass media in Trinidad in comparison to places like the US and media houses like Fox News, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, PBS.

Icons like Gwenn Ifill who moderated the Vice-Presidential debates of 2004 and 2008, Candy Crowley-CNN's senior political correspondent clearly exemplify how information is to be conveyed to the public in an impartial way and also how to moderate programmes that give an in-depth insight into people and issues in a very measured and objective way, leaving subjective deduction for the listening and reading public.

We need to espouse honest discussions about the roles/responsibilities we all have in dissemination of information.

Fox News for example has always declared that as a media house, it is Republican and as such its reporting, journalism, political shows are very much skewed as opposed to more impartial news houses like CNN or CBS.

Similarly, the New York Times is more balanced as a newspaper as opposed to papers like the Daliy News and New York Post which operate more paparazzi style but it is key to note that with an influx of litigation from libel suits, they do go after anybody but ensure that they get the facts straight before publication.

All of this becomes instrumental in the examination of fairness, credibility and special interests and why we need to re-think these things in terms of not only politicians but all in the domain of putting information out for public consumption.

During the period, 2005-2007, a situation arose that was very concerning about the amount of publicity it received should come into question given the current dispensation in tune with what the columnist was saying with regard to the dispensation of information under the relations between the media and government.

In 2005, a piece of legislation was passed which upon reflection after its passage, subsequent amendments and repealing of certain sections through assent and proclamation would have appeared as the Parliament being used as the vehicle by the Executive with its majority in the Legislative arm to pass legislation that  was fraught to bear endless fruit to persons with financial ties to the then ruling regime.

In Parliament on July 15, 2005  the Home Mortgage Amendment Act was passed and assented to on the July 29, 2005. The bill was well-intentioned to have changes made so that the bank functioned more smoothly in relation to operating in a contemporary business environment as what obtains in other modern places … just as the Indictable Proceedings Act was introduced to the backlog of cases in the courts.

One of those such changes was the repealing of Section 18 of the legislation which would see that there were no restrictions on share ownership or share transfer. The directors may decline to make any allotment of shares to any person without assigning any reason for the decision.

The same administration sometime after passed another amendment to the Home Mortgage Bank Act (Amendment) 2007. It was the first Act of 2007 to be assented to (February 2007). The amendment this time that was adjusted was Section 8. Section 8 sought to give immunity to the the directors of Home Mortgage Bank (HMB). It stated the directors shall be exempt from liability for acts done in relation to their job.

Within that same Section 8, Schedule 2 was inserted. It is interesting that the terminology used in relation to the regulatory function and oversight of the Central Bank with regard to the financial activities of the HMB as stated was not a mandatory one or one that would bear repercussions for non-compliance by the subordinate (HMB). It stated that the Central Bank "may" supervise the classes of financial activities of the HMB. It is instructive to note what activities the Central Bank "may" have supervised under the Merchant Bank, the Mortgage Institution, the Trust Company and the Collective Investment Funds.

We need to focus on what the columnist suggested in all developments currently and what happened previously under the former administration in the context of roles and responsibilities for politicians and the media.

When issues arose with HMB Amendment Acts/repeals and amendments to certain sections, we need to ask if all the parliamentarians would have anticipated what would have happened? Some of the same MPs currently in the Opposition were present at that time in governance and some current ministers were in opposition.

Ostensibly, we need to ask what happened to the media personnel also. The question still lurks as if the media personnel we had back then were different to those now? Were those then not as savvy as those currently? 

As the columnist noted, probably we need to look at the general level of education of media workers. What about the media's interest and how were they shaped then and how are they shaped currently? How many stories were negatively published concerning the HMB fiasco by the media and conveyed and exhausted on all the social networks?

The discourse on the role of the media in the dispensation of information and the way it is done needs to be deepened.

Hansen Stewart