Dr. Kwame Nantambu


Negative Reporting: Afri-centric Analysis

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
March 31, 2013

Within recent times, the public domain has been over-flooded with a plethora of accusatory statements by some among the leadership of the People's Partnership (PP) government.

Indeed, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has gone so far to adamantly/emphatically inform the nation that "rouge elements" exist in the media. And not to be outdone, National Security Minister Jack Warner has also publicly scoffed at "negative things" been revered in news reporting.

From an Afri-centric perspective, the leadership of the PP government needs to clearly understand that democracy is not a one-way street. Democracy has always been a two-way street.

The leadership needs to understand that in a democracy, the role of the media is not to function as the public relations mechanism or mouth piece of neither the ruling government nor the loyal opposition. The media does not take a pro or con position on any public issue. The media always takes a neutral position, albeit to inform the general public. The media only reports; it does not analyze or give an opinion. That's the job/role of political pundits/analysts/columnists.

The leadership of the PP government must realize that the media represents the voice of We the People in any democracy.

And in this regard, it is very interesting to recall the Prime Minister's acerbic accusation of "rogue elements" in the media, but conversely, when the media even vaguely hints at putative "rogue elements" as in ministers in PP government, suddenly, the media is anti-government.

The PP government just cannot have it both ways, period. If the leadership cannot stand the democratic media heat, then, it should get out of the political kitchen... plain and simple. The media must do its job, by any and all means necessary in this democracy.

This writer must hasten to remind the leadership of the PP government about the 1972 "Watergate scandal" in the United States. At that time, then President Richard M. Nixon publicly criticized/accused The Washington Post newspaper for the "negative things" its reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were publishing that apparently sought to contradict his public assertion: "I am not a crook."

In the long-run, it was this media news reporting/expose that was the catalyst to bring down President Nixon; he was the first president in US history to resign while in office on 9 August 1974. The media, therefore, played its vital, neutral and responsible role in America's democracy.

In terms of "negative things", Minister Jack Warner needs to understand that in the media-newspaper business, negativity sells. This is what enables this business to maximize profit, period. The PP government must face the stark reality that sensationalism is synonymous with media news reporting worldwide — it goes with the territory.

By way of Afri-centric elucidation, when he attempted to boost the rating/popularity (money-making aspect) of his TV programme "Crime Watch", host Ian Alleyne did not air the positive video of a thirteen year-old girl neatly dressed and receiving her first Holy Communion. He did not air the positive video of an innocent, happy couple taking their marriage vows after the pastor said: "You may kiss the bride."

On the contrary, Ian Alleyne resorted to "negative things." Whether that decision was immoral and/or illegal is totally immaterial and irrelevant to this discussion, period. It is just par-for-the-course in the beast called the media business. "Negative things" in the media attract additional viewers, readers and advertisers... it's all about making money. The media is a capitalist business... reporting is the name, maximizing profit is the game.

In addition, it is quite apropos to remind minister Warner that Hiomla Daniama, the lead actor in the drama series "Jacob's Cross" that airs on The Africa Channel (Cable TV # 54) once stated in an interview that a certain country in Europe refused to air the series because "a positive visual" of Afrika is presented. Mr. Dandala also indicated that he was told by the European executives that the positive images of Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa that are shown in the series do not really exist in Afrika, period.

Positive images just do not work in the media business, Mr. Warner, if any entity wants to survive and make money--- it is just that plain and simple.

The European media capitalist executives told him: "We don't recognize this Africa. This Africa does not exist."

On the contrary, if "Jacob's Cross" were to present "negative things" about countries in Afrika, then and only then, would these European businessmen/capitalists in the media have rushed to air the series.

Truth Be Told: As the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, once opined in 1800, "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter."

In the final analysis, the leadership of the PP government must understand that the "media can play a positive role in democracy only if there is an enabling environment that allows them to do so." In addition, it is vital that the media must also be "free from intervention of media owners and the State (government)".

A healthy "democracy is impossible without a free press" – regardless and irrespective of the genre of its news reporting.

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace")

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecture at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies and University of the West Indies.

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