Journalism is the best system that provides for transparency in a democracy but do we have that capacity in Grenada?
If the reporting on the just ended EC$1.1 Billion 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 left no smarter than they currently are.
Yes there were plenty stories – dozens highlighting the pronouncements of the Prime Minister and his Ministers during the meeting of the House of Representatives – and that’s appropriate – the nation must know about the plans and programs of the sitting administration but they should also be critically analysed.
Unfortunately though in the Senate where there is a combination of government, independence senators and representatives of the opposition very few stories focusing on the content of the budget were produced by the local media.
The only exception was MTV, which featured stories critiquing the suspicious $32 Million dollar package called “Other Services – a discretionary spending of the Minister or Cabinet.
MTV also did stories on the opposition dismissing the government claims of a prospering country, the labour Senator’s condemnation of lighting the cricket stadium at a cost of one million dollars to see T/20 cricket while ignoring Health, and Agriculture, and Senators questioning the government’s performance.
The fact is that the other media houses were less inquiring and probing.
CC6 and GBN chose to ignore the critical issues and instead focused on the President of the Senate blasting latecomers to Senate Meetings along with the government’s failure to pay former NDC Parliamentarians their benefits almost four years later.
This is the same government that made sure that they paid themselves all their benefits prior to the 2003 general election which the NNP won by one-seat.
I take careful note of the fact that stories done on the non-payment of monies owed to some NDC members of Parliament were diluted by these media outlets who turned to a former NNP consultant, Dr. Bert Brathwaite who claimed that he was not compensated following the 2008 change of government.
It should be noted that the same Dr. Mitchell did not pay House 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 Franka Bernadine questioned the quality of Caribbean legal luminaries. What the Lady Senator was in fact highlighting was the people’s lack of trust in the government. GBN again!!!
What I want to suggest is that due to our one-party House of Representatives (Lower House), the local media outlets ought to be more investigating and check to see if the government’s promises and expenditure are imaginary or realistic.
Can anyone deny that since coming back into power in 2013, the Keith Mitchell Government’s manifesto and presentation of four budgets all together promised in excess of 20,000 temporary and permanent jobs?
Can GBN or CC6 or any of the media houses tell the nation how many of these jobs became a reality? Are our journalists asleep or afraid to look seriously at the NNP Green House?
Our so-called private media houses are behaving just like the Government Information Services (GIS) in seeking to make IMF letters of commendation a red carpet celebration for government while ignoring the impact the austerity measures are having on workers and people in general.
Yes we must report the IMF stories but the local journalists also have a responsibility to highlight the consequences of the program.
For example, what have the media houses said about the three-year deferral in public servant wages and the impact of the programme on workers?
What about the failure of the government to ensure the replanting of key export crops like nutmeg and cocoa some 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 by some as the national radio and television station but in my view its performance at the moment is way below par.
Of the three television stations on the island, the GBN news often leaves much to be desired. The management of GBN needs to address this issue in the New Year.
Many persons have told me that GBN’s Monday to Friday morning interactive TV/radio programs generally favour the government. The host of the programme seems unable to come up on a consistent basis with serious, social and economic issues of the day.
It is apparent that a lot of her focus is to reflect on the last government. One person said in a quite laughable tone that maybe she is influenced by the former NDC General Secretary and the Consul-General.
Much of what is reflected on GBN might very well be done based on the powerful influence of the government Chief Media strategist who is known to be someone who likes to work from behind the scene but with the clear intention of trying to always impact the current affairs issues.
It should be recalled that 15 years ago the NNP government of Dr. Mitchell sold majority shares of GBN to a Trinidad and Tobago media company (CCN) but maintained one or two directors on the five-member board.
Is the $6000.00 a month lady in the Gardens one of the persons serving as a GBN Board member?
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 other major TV networks often try to go for a balance in the news but the GBN TV news is the worst – it appears to be often done compliments GIS.
This NNP Government uses the budget to hide many things from the people and it is the responsibility of the news media to ask the real and serious questions and to seek clarity on the contents of the budget.
Take for instance Senator Simon Stiell – the Leader of Government Business in the Upper House and his utterances in seeking to defend the $32 Million spending on the item known as “Other Services”.
The goodly Senator said it is for “goods and services” which is surely not a satisfactory answer. Tell the people what are these “goods and services” and do not leave them to speculate. But then again Sen. Stiell likes to fool himself into believing that he is one of the brightest and smartest men in town.
Emolument and Professional Services are line items in each Ministry budget so why not itemise other services? Each line item has a name and according to good accountant practices these ought to be identified by government in the budget.
Let’s hope the NNP is not doing a Bernard Coard on us by keeping two books with figures – one for the IMF and the other for themselves.
In conclusion, we should not loose sight of the fact that this NNP government in the middle of an austerity package awarded the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary with a $1000 a month increase on her salary – which works out to be $12000 a year and 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 between what the Press Secretary got and the civil servants.
I am calling on GBN and other media outlets to put the question to the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Mitchell in the New Year.
Please journalists, put PM Mitchell under the microscope – why this special treatment for his Press Secretary?
There are other important questions that the media should seek answers on from our government.
I can mention the increase in the budget for Parliamentary Constituency offices, which now stands at one point eight million.
Do you know that more than one hundred thousand dollars are being paid to a former Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office whose agency is contracted to manage and outsource the work in the respective constituencies?
The media owe it to themselves to keep and safeguard their own reputations and to perform and not sleep on the job.
Today our Prime Minister regard the media and in particular the reporters as dunce young men and women who are not capable of doing any research and to ask the very tough questions.
Very few of the journalists who turn up at the weekly post-Cabinet Press Briefing ask the tough and serious questions.
Is it that the media houses are afraid of losing the little advertising dollars from government? This should not be an issue since the advertisements are normally given to Hamlet Mark’s Caribupdate, which controls less than 1% of the readership in the country.
Media people, please get on the ball and let us prove the PM and his government so wrong for the sake of the profession.