CHALLENGING A CHALLENGED MEDIA
Journalism is the best system which provides for transparency in a democracy; but do we have that capacity in Grenada?
If the reporting on the just ended one point one billion dollar budget presentation by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr. Keith Mitchell is an example of our journalistic performance in a system in which there is no opposition in the House of Representatives, the people will be no smarter than they are.
Yes, there were plenty of stories - dozens highlighting the pronouncements of the Prime Minister and his Ministers during the meeting of the House of. And that's appropriate - the nation must know about plans and programs! However, they should be critically analyzed.
Unfortunately though, in the Senate, where there is a combination of government - independent senators and representatives of the opposition, very few stories focusing on the content of the budget were produced.
With the exception of MTV which featured stories critiquing the suspicious $32 Million dollar package called other services -- a discretionary spending of the minister or cabinet; the opposition dismissing the government's claims of a prospering country; the labor senator's condemnation of lighting the cricket stadium at a cost of $10 Million to see T/20 cricket while ignoring health; and the senator representing Agriculture questioning the government's performance -- the other news media were less inquiring.
CC6 and GBN chose to ignore the critical issues and instead focused on the President of the Senate blasting late comers to the senate meeting; along with the government's failure to pay former NDC Parliamentarians their benefits almost four years later.
However, stories done on the non-payment to some NDC members of Parliament were diluted by a former NNP consultant Dr. Bert Brathwaite claiming that he was not compensated following the 2008 change of government. It should be noted that the same Dr. Mitchell did not pay Speaker, Marcel Peters, throughout his government's 13-year reign.
Another GBN story highlighting the "No Vote' result in the Referendum seemed twisted to send the message that NDC's Franka Bernadine questioned the quality of Caribbean legal luminaries when, in fact, the lady senator was highlighting the people's lack of trust in the government.
Because of our one-party House of Representatives, our news media ought to do more investigations -- checking to see if the government's promises and expenditure are imaginary or realistic.
Since coming into power in 2013, the Keith Mitchell government's manifesto and four budgets all together promised in excess of 20000 temporary and permanent jobs - how many are reality? Are our journalists asleep?
Like the Government Information Service, GBN and other stations make IMF letters of commendation a red carpet celebration while ignoring the impact the austerity measures are having on workers and people in general.
Yes we must report the IMF stories -- but so too should we report the consequences of the program. For example, the three-year deferral in public servant wages and their impact on workers; the failure of the government to ensure the re-planting of key export crops such as nutmeg and coca 12 years after Hurricane Ivan; and the contracting and outsourcing of government jobs to party people. Are we getting value for money?
GBN is called the national station however, its performance today is way below par. Of the three television news stations, its news often leaves much to be desired. Its Monday to Friday morning interactive TV/radio programs generally favours the government. The host seems unable to place on a consistent basis serious social and economic questions. Lots of her focus is to reflect on the previous government.
Much of what is reflected in GBN might very well be the powerful influence of the government's chief media strategist who works from behind the scenes impacting on current affairs.
15 years ago the NNP government sold majority shares to a Trinidad and Tobago media company but maintains one or two directors on the five-member board.
Clearly, the independent GBN we all desire is a very long way off track. The company might point to a one-hour opposition program on Tuesdays -- but what else?
One or two of the news reports try for a balance. Nevertheless, the GBN TV news merely compliments the GIS.
This Government, like others, uses its budget to hide many things. But it is the responsibility of the news media to ask questions and seek clarity. Senator Simon Steel, the leader of government business in defending the $32 Million spending on other services says it's for goods and services -- surely not a satisfactory answer.
Emoluments and professional services are line items in each ministry's budget! So why not itemize other services? Each has a name and, according to good accounting practices, they ought to be identified.
In conclusion, government, in the middle of an austerity program, awarded the Prime Minister's Press Secretary a $1000 a month increase on her salary -- which is the equivalent of $12000 a year. Today, the same government is offering police, nurses, teachers, and public officers a $1000 one off payment covering a three-year period. The media must seek to inquire why the huge disparity in remuneration? GBN and others ought to put the question to the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance!!! Put him under the microscope!!! Why special treatment for the press secretary?
Other questions which demand answers: The increase in the budget for parliamentary constituency offices now stands at one point eight million with more than one hundred thousand being paid to a former secretary in the prime minister's Office. This person owns an agency which is contracted to manage and outsource the work in the respective constituencies.
The media owe it to their own reputation to perform. Today, our prime minister assumes that the media --- and in particular the reporters --- are dunce young men and women; unable to research and ask tough questions. Prove him wrong, media workers!