DR ANDRE ROLLINS, a new face to the political scene, does not seem to understand the difference between opinion pieces -- solely the opinion of the writer -- and objective news.
In his maiden speech in the House of Assembly yesterday, Dr Rollins spent precious time lecturing us about what should or should not be said in an editorial - thus exposing his ignorance of our profession.
He objected to our opinion that the Bahamian people were "ungrateful" by not appreciating the tremendous effort made by former Prime Minister Ingraham, who successfully kept this country on course for the past five years during its worst economic challenge. Dr Rollins felt that we had no right to hold such an opinion, especially, he said, as "a people buy her Tribune each and every day to learn about what happens in their beloved country".
That is true, and each and every day The Tribune gives them in solid objective news what is happening daily in their "beloved country."
However, page four of The Tribune is devoted to various opinions. About 24 inches of that page is reserved for the opinion of the newspaper's editor, who in this case also happens to be the publisher. The rest of the page is reserved for the opinions of residents, both Bahamian and foreign. On this page, the public says what it wants -- within reason, of course. And in the editorial the editor also expresses her opinion -- no one has to agree with those opinions, but at least it starts debate and gets people thinking. If the public has free reign to express its opinions -- barring committing defamation and offending good taste -- then the editor has the same right. She makes no apology to Dr Rollins or anybody else.
As a matter of fact -- regardless of who agrees or disagrees with what was written in that editorial now under debate -- she stands by every word she wrote on May 8 under the heading, "Bahamas has lost a great leader". We wrote it. We meant it. And regardless of the Dr Rollinses of the Bahamas, we do not apologise for one word of it. This was our opinion, it is still our opinion, and the editorial is the only place in a newspaper that the editorial writer can express his or her opinion. We reserve that right.
Dr Rollins seems to believe that we have no right to such an opinion, because this would be expressing the opinion of each and every member of our staff, who might or might not agree with our opinion.
This expresses the opinion of no staff member. It just expresses the opinion of the editorial writer and the position of the newspaper, which she owns. And those who don't agree are free to do so, both in the letters column of The Tribune, on the floor of the House, which will then be published in The Tribune, and on our website, which for this particular editorial attracted 43 commentaries -- some for, some, like Dr Rollins, against. We welcome them all - that, Dr Rollins, is what democracy is all about -- each person is free to express his or her own opinion, regardless of who likes or dislikes it as long as it is within the bounds of decency.
Over the years, the PLP have had difficulty tolerating, or even encouraging, freedom of speech -- something that this newspaper has fought hard and long for. We never found that with the FNM. This does not mean that they agreed with everything we said -- often they vehemently disagreed - but unlike Dr Rollins, they never questioned our right to say it. Dr Rollins is a newcomer to the scene. He does not know how hard the fight has been to get to where we are today or to have the freedoms that we now enjoy. We suggest that he tries to catch up on his news. And, Bahamians must never forget that it was the Ingraham government that freed the airwaves.
Dr Rollins can start by asking his colleague, Fred Mitchell, how and why in 1998 he started his website, Fred Michael Uncensored. Or why in 1992 he challenged the Pindling government's election laws by broadcasting his first political advertisement from a Florida radio station.
At the time, Mr Mitchell hoped to provoke his arrest and then challenge the PLP's law on the basis that it was unconstitutional.
"This law," he said from Miami at the time, "is a treacherous law by Pindling, and no political joker is going to take away our right to free speech."
At that time, Mr Mitchell was being shut out on all sides by all sections of the press -- especially the PLP-operated ZNS. The only outlet that he had was The Tribune. This did not mean that The Tribune or its publisher agreed with what he had to say. But, what we did strongly agree with was his right to say it.
And on October 31, 1998, this is what Mr Mitchell had to say:
"Strange as it may seem, The Tribune has the fairest policy with regard to coverage of political news. They seem to understand that the news is the news and not what your editorial opinion is."
We suggest that Mr Mitchell educate Dr Rollins, because we do not intend to step back into the dark ages of the PLP when free speech was not so free. Every day this newspaper had to fight for a Bahamian's right to express himself. No longer are we a frightened society.
And Dr Rollins need not come along and try to turn back the pages of history, because The Tribune just ain't taking that route. We suggest that he try to catch up with us and learn tolerance.