By NICOLE BURROWS
LAST week, Prime Minister Perry Christie gave an interview with local media and said the following:
“The people of The Bahamas will have help in determining how good we are and how well we have fared. I am satisfied, and, that I’m gonna be judged effectively and honestly and that I will - and that is, I, the government of The Bahamas - will in fact be seen to have done wonders for this country.”
Just prior to Christie’s interview, the Minister of Tourism, Obie Wilchcombe, said this (in Parliament) about the leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), and about the press, after Branville McCartney declared that an important email to Minister Wilchcombe about escalating crime in The Bahamas, from Carlos Torres de Navarra, VP of Commercial Port Operations for Carnival Cruise Lines, went unanswered:
“And we never got the emails. Never saw the emails, Mr Speaker. ‘Cause they were never sent to us, they were sent to somebody else. Then, Mr Speaker, but what bothers me about this, this is a leader of a party, a responsible man, I thought, a man who says he wants to lead this country, receiving emails, obviously questionably had by someone, given to him and then he goes to the media and disseminates irresponsibly, Mr Speaker, talking about his country.
“How could we talk about we concerned about crime and yet we are involved in the preparation of crime? How, Mr Speaker? How is that possible? Mr Speaker, this is now a matter for the Royal Bahamas Police Force, which I have reported, and I have met with the police force, I have given them all the details, because the two things I want to find out is firstly, how you get emails sent to me?”
“And I could tell you, the leader of the DNA today should be ashamed. Should be ashamed. He should be ashamed of what he did, Mr Speaker, and he should be ashamed that he (drove, droge, drone?) the media into it. He’s been using the media, Mr Speaker, and the media should not allow itself to be used.”
The recipient addresses on the email message(s) in question are reported to include Wilchcombe’s and the Director General of Tourism’s. Wilchcombe’s address is incorrectly typed, so he may never have received the message at his correct address. The Director General’s email address is believed to be correct, so she should have received the message, but has not confirmed that she has. Nevertheless, the minimum assumption is that the Director General received the message, as did another Carnival representative copied on the message.
If the Director General (or her assistant) got the email, did she not share it, pass it on, escalate it? Are we to believe that at least one person in the Ministry of Tourism got it but no one saw it? If the Director General got it, it reached the Ministry of Tourism server, such that it at least made it to their IT department.
If the Director General got it, and the Minister’s address was also there, but typed incorrectly, would the Director General (or her assistant) not have shared it with the Minister? Regardless of whether or not a crime warning was imminent from Carnival Cruise Lines, whether or not Bran McCartney had good or bad information, whether or not the Minister thinks it’s a matter for police, is it not still a failure by someone to act, then, if the email was received and not relayed ... at the very least?
You can argue about how mischievous this whole email query is - I’m not addressing the existence or non-existence of mischief-making in it, the legality or illegality of it, and I am going on the same details presented by the media and the responses, on record, by the parties in question - but what concerns me is Wilchcombe’s tirade in Parliament ... his attack on the media and its integrity, and the presumption that anyone who leaks information about wrongdoing is a criminal.
How could he, how dare he presume to tell the media what it should or shouldn’t do, or print, being himself a journalist for a good many years, notwithstanding it was with the propaganda station?
Wilchcombe knows the media’s role as the Fourth Estate, a shadow branch of government, with an obligation to ensure that democracy is upheld in a democratic society, by providing information so voters can be educated in their decision-making, with the ultimate impact of determining the social development agenda and building up the society/democracy.
Wilchcombe knows that the media must protect the public against government misdeeds, holding the government accountable for its actions and its inactions. And this is especially important in the absence of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). If the media is to be a useful vehicle of communication between the public and its government, or a watchdog of the government for the people, it must make independent decisions on what becomes news. Wilchcombe knows this.
Now, it is the opinion of many that the local media does not currently perform anywhere near an investigative capacity, as the citizens would want them to, and time will tell their ability to do so. But if they decide to accept something as valid and newsworthy, who is a government minister to say otherwise, particularly when it is he/his government that the media must hold accountable?
Adding insult to Bahamian injury, Wilchcombe’s first and biggest question/concern is how Bran McCartney could have access to his email? And that is the sole catalyst for contacting the police? We go running or threatening to run to the police every five minutes? Galanis runs, Wilchcombe runs, who’s next? In the entire matter, that is what Wilchcombe clings to –- how someone got information that can hold him accountable to the people?
To me, it sounds like a matter that can be investigated by the Ministry of Tourism’s own IT department, ie it is internal to the Ministry of Tourism. So, what is the threat of police intervention about, other than it being a scare tactic? Or, a guilty reaction?
Hidden within that threat is the disposition that no one on the Ministry of Tourism side could be the instigator for this email debacle. Also embedded in that threat is the suggestion that, if anyone on the Ministry of Tourism side was privy to the email in question and consequently found the Minister and his colleagues at fault, whether directly in the Minister’s office or elsewhere, they should strap their mouth and never breathe a word of wrongdoing?
A potential whistleblower on a serious issue should never dare to blow the whistle on 1) him, Obie Wilchcombe, 2) him, the Minister of Tourism, or 3) him, a member of Parliament, the Cabinet, and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government? The same PLP government led by Perry Christie, who recently equated himself with the entire government of The Bahamas? He is the government of The Bahamas?
At the end of all of this, my question is, where does he - Wilchcombe, or any of them for that matter - get off thinking that they are so all-powerful, so entitled to be protected under all circumstances, even possibly from their own misdeeds?
May the heavens bless the people who are bold enough to decide to have a conscience, to act on their conscience, and stand up for something for the benefit of the greater good. Otherwise, no one will know or do anything in the face of wrong to prevent wrong and injustice and we, little Nassau and The Bahamas will remain unchanged, drenched in corruption so old and stale that you will pass out from its stench when it approximates you.
In this story, the implication that all should play by the rules of those in governance simply because they are in governance and have set forth such rules to be observed without question under any circumstance suggests to me that those in governance don’t really understand the role of the media, or the importance of democracy. And that is a terrible shame, especially for a man who spent so much of his life working in media.
To further suggest that the media is a pawn in an opposition party’s attempt to malign or create wrongdoing where wrongdoers don’t believe it exists is political game-playing.
That Bran McCartney, or any other man or woman, can single-handedly force the hand of an independent news agency with all of its many years of experience and legal expertise is purely ridiculous.
Further, has Wilchcombe spoken to his colleagues about their own involvement in the preparation of crime? I wonder. I wonder how many Bahamians get taken in by Wilchcombe’s (and others) smooth talking. But, it appears, as a talk radio caller recently remarked, “Obie Wilchcombe could sell sand to the beach”.
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