Publisher of the Nation newspaper, Vivian-Anne Gittens has the ear of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart (R) during the Inter-American Press Association’s Mid-Year Meeting in Barbados. (A. Miller/BGIS)
By Sharon Austin
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has expressed the view that, for democracy’s sake, governments and newspapers need each other.
Stuart proffered this opinion over the weekend while delivering an address at the Inter-American Press Association’s Mid-Year Meeting in Barbados.
He said newspapers needed well-functioning governments because, as businesses, they could flourish best in societies that were relatively prosperous.
“It cannot serve their best interests to function in such a way as to make development difficult, if not impossible. Enlightened governments, too, need newspapers because they need an informed public if they are to maximise and optimise the pursuit of their agenda for development and nation building.
“The existence of a healthy relationship between the two sides, based on mutual trust and respect, is, therefore, an indispensable prerequisite to the achievement of the democratic ideal to which both governments and the press aspire,” he stated.
According to the prime minister, even though the politician might not always end up on the more favourable side of press assessment, it did not mean that the journalist was always his enemy. He pointed out that the journalist, on the other hand, must understand the need to be fair in the assessment of the politician’s efforts, regardless of what was thought about his competencies and capacities.
Stuart said that if the governments of the vulnerable small island developing states of the Caribbean were to help their people on a path of sustainable progress, then the role of the press in disseminating facts, building knowledge, understanding and consensus and assisting in the journey towards economic enfranchisement was crucial.
“A short-term approach to the dissemination of information will, of necessity, be counterproductive. In a tourist economy, the repeated sensational presentation of items of information deemed ‘true’ can end up creating and cementing an unattractive image of the country in the eyes of the beholder. In that context, newspaper sales might for a time increase, but the medium to long-term effects of that sensationalism might be to undermine the economic prospects of the very country the press is purporting to serve,” he argued.
He stated that one should never underestimate the power of the press by the clever use of accurate or inaccurate information to foment social restlessness that could be equally dangerous in its results.
The prime minister stressed that freedom of expression had never been intended to be understood as the liberty to do what one wanted, but rather, the responsibility to do what one ought.
“With the support of freedom of expression, a responsible press can contribute much to the protection and promotion of democracy. An irresponsible press can, however, undermine and weaken that democracy. Both the promotion and the undermining of democracy depend ultimately on the state of public opinion,” he said.