Friday, December 23, 2011

Election time in the Bahamas: ...the 2012 election promises to be worse than any we have ever been through, and reporters will have to hone their investigative skills to avoid the traps as they dig for the truth

A political plot without foundation

tribune242 editorial

ELECTION TIME in the Bahamas is often referred to as "silly season", a time when a citizen takes what he hears with a large grain of salt. As any reporter will tell you, it is not only "silly season", but it is also a very difficult period for a journalist to cover. So much time is wasted sifting fact from fiction that little time is left to report on ideas and programmes that could move the nation "forward, upward and onward".

However, the 2012 election promises to be worse than any we have ever been through, and reporters will have to hone their investigative skills to avoid the traps as they dig for the truth.

The PLP is now urging young Bahamians to bring their voices to the national stage by taking part in the country's first ever participatory journalism project. They are invited to report from their homes and streets using cell phones and cameras. This is fine, but at the receiving end -- and before it is put out for public dissemination - there has to be an experienced person checking for accuracy.

Anyone watching news reports of the troubles in the Middle East, reported by Twitter and cell phones, and broadcast by the international networks, were always cautioned that the man in the street was the source and that the reports could not be checked by the networks for accuracy. In other words, listener you are receiving information, but beware -- it might not all be true. No journalistic standards had been employed. And for the uninitiated, who might think otherwise, there is more to journalism than just fact gathering. Those facts have to be verified -- checked and double checked.

One would be surprised at the number of tips The Tribune receives that by the time the "facts" have been checked and the exaggeration and opinions stripped from the information, a story is published -- but not exactly the one reported by the telephone caller.

And so if Twitter, Facebook and other social media are to enter this election with raw information, there is going to be a lot of public confusion, and trained journalists will have a mammoth job chasing up these reports to find out how many are accurate, and how many have to be debunked as cheap propaganda.

For example, when we walked into The Tribune yesterday afternoon, there were two journalists in animated conversation. We joined them.

They were sceptical about a report that had been making the rounds all day and which they knew in the end would bring negative results. Knowing the parties involved, they could find no benefits in it being true for either party -- the FNM or DNA. If true, it would create a mountainous credibility problem for the DNA, a problem that Mr McCartney could not tolerate.

The story that we walked into apparently emanated from a rejected DNA candidate, who was now shaking the dust off his feet as he left a party in which he no longer had faith.

According to him -- with the story gathering many new layers in its repeated telling -- Bran McCartney of the DNA and Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham were in huddled talks, resulting in Mr McCartney surrendering his party at the feet of the Prime Minister. Of course, there was a price. Mr McCartney would not be prime minister as yet, but he would be a stepping stone nearer his goal. In an FNM government, Bran McCartney would be deputy prime minister. And current deputy prime minister Brent Symonette? He would get the proverbial boot, of course.

Like our senior reporter, when considering the source of the tall tale, knowing the temperament of the Prime Minister, and what we believe we know of Mr McCartney, we did not give credit to any part of the story. But our reporters could not shrug their shoulders and laugh. It was their job to investigate.

Prime Minister Ingraham denied the story. And so did Mr McCartney, but the PLP clung to it almost as if they were delighted to have at last found a political life line.

Of course, they want voters to believe it is true to discredit the integrity of the DNA, and give the impression that the FNM is crumbling and is leaning on the DNA for support.

According to the PLP, Mr McCartney and the FNM are hatching a plot "designed to fool Bahamian voters into believing the DNA is something new and providing cover for Ingraham's fading support".

It is true that political plots are being hatched -- many of them -- but this far-fetched tale is not one to be taken seriously.

December 21, 2011

tribune242 editorial