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 Bahamas Commentary

2006-01-17 16:32:27

Don't Blame The Press

What good would it do if we pretended that visitors were safe from our criminals? Withholding the news from our columns would not prevent those attacks.

During the Pindling years - 1967 to 1992 - The Tribune was accused of "managing the news". Translated into PLP language this meant that The Tribune was publishing news that the PLP would rather ignore. Some of the media did in fact oblige, and managed the news in the true sense of what that management meant.

As a result The Tribune had the reputation of being the newspaper that the public had to read if it wanted to know the truth about what was happening in the country. Sometimes we got it wrong. But as soon as we discovered our mistake, we were the first to make a correction. The public knew that it could trust The Tribune.

If members of the public thought that, for whatever reason, we were trying to suppress the news, we would quickly lose their trust.

Of course, that didn't mean that they always agreed with our editorial opinions, but they knew that our letters columns were open for their disagreement.

Today, for the sake of saving the country's number one industry - tourism - the media has been urged to be more cautious in its reporting. In other words - manage the news.

If the public thought for one minute that The Tribune was serving them news on a sugar-coated platter, there would be the same outcry that we had when years ago the police decided to withhold the crime report and the newspapers got the blame.

Also what good would it do if we pretended that visitors were safe from our criminals? Withholding the news from our columns would not prevent those attacks. Each one would have to be reported to the US Embassy. Eventually, unless the level of crime were reduced, the Embassy would be forced to issue a travel advisory - and then the whole world would know, and the local media would be dismissed as "cover-up" artists. We would quickly lose our reputation as a reliable medium for news.

At the Ministry of Tourism's annual national conference last week the Paul Gallagher case was discussed as a "case-in-point" of negative media perception.

This was the case of the death of a two-year-old boy sleeping on a beach at his mother's side when a run-away power boat, towing a banana boat, lurched onto the beach, hitting the child, and splitting his head open.

The conference was told that it was the media perception of inadequate government response that provided the platform for continuous UK media scrutiny and coverage.

This is not so. The press did its job. It reported the complaint of Paul's parents, who were upset that their child's death was not being treated with the seriousness they felt it should have been. They were upset by the local inquest, and perceived that there was an attempt at a cover up to protect a local company.

What should the press have done in this case? Told the Gallaghers that in the name of protecting our tourism industry, they should get lost? No, it is for persons involved in these cases to do a better job, and show the necessary concern so cases such as the Gallaghers are not allowed to get out of control.

The conference was told that the media portrayed "slow response" on the part of the authorities as evidence of apparent "cover up." Oh, no, not so fast. The media portrayed nothing. The media reported what was perceived by the Gallaghers and the UK coroner who held a second inquest into the death in England.

It was said that a negative perception of Bahamian authorities was created due to what was seen as "delayed" enforcement of safety standards and regulations.

Don't blame the press for this. Blame the government which seems incapable of policing our beaches and getting the jet ski industry under control. How many years has the public been complaining about jet ski operators? How many more people have to be killed, injured or maimed before government will come to grips with the jet ski menace?

Don't talk about the press being the problem. The problem lies with those who are taking too long to do their job of protecting the public from a known menace.

If the public cooperated with the police to get crime under control, and if government would enforce the law to prevent accidents on our beaches, the press would have nothing to report.

So don't blame the press. Those who have the power and the duty to make a change in areas that are damaging our tourist industry should concentrate on improving their performance, rather than pleading for the press to cover up their deficiencies.

Editorial from The Tribune - Nassau, Bahamas

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