By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER Opposition Senator Dr Duane Sands yesterday branded the latest publication celebrating two years of the government by Bahamas Information Services as wasteful propaganda.
Dr Sands questioned the government’s focus on public relations at the expense of the taxpayer, adding that the outsourcing of printing conflicted with the administration’s mantra of “believing in Bahamians”.
However, BIS officials defended the 56-page full-colour special news and information “newspaper” released last week as a factual non-partisan account of the government’s work on behalf of the people during its second year in office.
The publication is the second in a series chronicling the government’s achievements, and was printed by an American company with a print run of 50,000 copies, according to Director General Luther Smith, who said the agency was acting on its legislative mandate.
Pointing out that governments in every country generated their own media content, Mr Smith charged that all news was a form of propaganda, and that the discerning factor is how the information is used.
He referred to the official external broadcast institution of the United States federal government, Voices of America.
“Even if it is factual,” Dr Sands said, “it still outlines a very pro-PLP agenda under the guise of being a report by the government of the Bahamas, who just happens to be PLP. This is an entirely partisan political publication and quite frankly the publication costs of this drivel – most of the publications have wound up in the garbage – ought to be sent directly to the chairman of the PLP.
“They should cease and desist from printing their own PLP propaganda with the people’s money,” Dr Sands added.
Titled “On Course … Moving in the Right Direction”, the publication details extensively initiatives undertaken by each government ministry, and includes several feature articles supplemented with excerpts from Prime Minister Perry Christie’s parliamentary contributions.
Mr Smith told The Tribune yesterday: “It printed about a week ago, it was not printed locally. We got quotes from local companies, including The Tribune and others, but in terms of economies of scale we got it printed in the United States of America. This is an ongoing attempt at putting another focus on the government’s activities, not just through private media but through the government’s lenses.
“It is basically a digest of what ministers, and their particular ministries have been doing over a period of time. We’re just passing information to the people, who have a right to know what its government is doing. It’s not something where we have advertisements, or other content, it’s basically the information.”
Mr Smith said: “All news is a form of propaganda for that purpose, including what you (Tribune) publish everyday. Propaganda is information, how you use it is the deciding factor, how it is interpreted. People are saying they want to know what the government is doing, not everybody buys a newspaper or watches the news, or listens to the radio. It’s simply getting information out, and it’s not different from what happens in every other country.”
Unlike the first publication to mark the Christie administration’s second anniversary, which was in magazine format, the digest was printed full-colour on high quality newsprint. Based on industry pricing, production and shipping costs for the publication were estimated to be around $35,000. A printing industry insider gave the conservative figure of around $70,000 in production costs for the first publication.
Mr Smith said he could not confirm the production’s costs, but would provide the information at a later date.
Dr Sands said: “It really is unfortunate when you think about this, they’re spending all this money to apprise the people of the Progressive Liberal Party narrative. Generally, if you are doing such a good job your work would speak for itself, wouldn’t it?
“It’s this idea of public relations,” he said, “it would have been said that the Free National Movement performed and they had lousy public relations. The PLP is trying to have very good public relations, but they’re not performing.”
The edition also provides a listing of legislation put before the House of Assembly this term, and the date when each bill was passed. Of the 91 bills listed, 12 items were said to be pending.
Bills listed as pending were: Employees Pension Fund Protection Act, 2012; Bahamas Development Bank (Amendment) Bill, 2012; Home-owners Protection Bill, 2012; National Tripartite Council Bill, 2013; Bahamas Protected Areas Fund Bill, 2013; Gaming Bill, 2013; Bahamas Public Parks and Public Beaches Authority Bill, 2013; Constitutional (Amendment) Bill, 2014; Medical Bill, 2014; Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2014; and the Medical (Amendment) Bill, 2014.
Mr Smith said the copies will be distributed to centralised locations, such as post offices, government buildings and banks.
The publication was produced by BIS’ Special Projects Unit, said to be made up of Elcott Coleby, deputy director, Earlin Williams, consultant, and Latonya Symonette, special assistant.
Yesterday, Mr Coleby challenged critics to identify any information that was inaccurate or misleading.
He pointed to criticisms of the first publication, which revealed employment figures that claimed the Christie administration had added nearly 7,000 jobs to the Bahamian work force in its two years in office.
While the figure conflicted with additional unemployment statistics printed in the back of the magazine, recent Labour Force statistics released by the Department of Statistics have confirmed the addition of more than 8,000 jobs.
Mr Coleby said: “We are merely communicating the work of the government on the behalf of the people, which the BIS is mandated to do under the 1974 Act. It’s consistent with the mandate, it’s not propaganda. It’s accurate information, and if people can identify information or data that is incorrect, we invite them to draw it to our attention. So far nobody has been able to identify any incorrect data.
He added: “You can’t call BIS propaganda, there is nothing to suggest that they are trying to deceive the Bahamian people.”