PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, invited to address the third annual Press Club’s awards banquet Saturday night, seemed to know more about the workings of the foreign press than the achievements of the Bahamian journalists sitting in front of him.
At last, Bahamian journalists had grown, not only in numbers over the years, but were now sufficiently confident to form their own club, hold annual events to recognise the achievements of their colleagues and present awards. And so it was no wonder that Bahamas Press Club President Anthony Capron felt that the Prime Minister should have been “more gracious” in his keynote address to them.
The Prime Minister did not even seem to know that the education of young Bahamian journalists, whose abilities he was criticising, was only made possible under his own party when Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham replaced the repressive PLP regime under the late Sir Lynden Pindling.
Although Prime Minister Minnis at least recognised that Bahamian journalists must take on “multiple roles given the number of reporters and limited resources” he still found it “surprising that some who serve as editors also regularly write or offer commentary. This is not a practice that would be allowed by journalists in other countries. I am not speaking here of editorial writing,” he said.
What an absolutely dumb observation — almost as dumb as the conversation we had with the late Prime Minister Pindling when we tried to convince him of the need for a work permit for an experienced foreign journalist who could help educate our young Bahamian staff. Sir Lynden tried to convince us that anyone who could write could be a reporter. For example, he said, the late John Taylor, a brilliant Bahamian dramatist, could easily be turned into a good reporter. John, who later became a minister of religion, got a great laugh out of that one. Although, he could write drama, he himself admitted he could never qualify as a journalist — nor had he the inclination to even try. The conversation with Sir Lynden and his complete lack of knowledge of journalism – although he foolishly tried to pretend that he was an authority on the subject — reminded us of a reply to an application we received to an advertisement we had published in The Tribune to try to find local journalists. The applicant tried to convince us that because she had beautiful penmanship, she was just the candidate we were looking for in our news room.
We tried another tack. We arranged a meeting with a PLP immigration minister with a proposal to send some of our young journalists to a certain overseas newspaper for training. In return, the newspaper would send an equal number of their trained journalists to fill the empty chairs in The Tribune’s newsroom. The Minister thought it was a capital idea. The only hitch, he did not think that Sir Lynden and his colleagues would like foreigners writing about them. And so that idea hit the ground. It seemed that no matter which way we turned we could not get our staff trained — Sir Lynden and the PLP wanted a quick end to The Tribune, and they did it behind closed doors out of the sight of the public through the rejection of work permits for competent staff to train our inexperienced journalistic hopefuls.
We had to put out a daily newspaper with an untrained staff. In those early days every bit of copy that crossed our desk had to be rewritten as we rushed to meet the deadline of the waiting press. It was not easy.
Eventually we had a breakthrough. One year, we were allowed one permit for a British journalist. Instead of putting him in our newsroom, where he was desperately needed, we opened one side of our building for a school. There he was not only to teach our staff, but other aspiring journalists were invited to join. We paid them all a small weekly stipend. In those days, we were an afternoon newspaper and so on Saturdays when we published they came into our newsroom to try going out on interviews and writing their reports. The late Eugene Dupuch, QC, after whom the Eugene Dupuch Law School is named, lectured them on Defamation. They were taken to sit in on the courts and try their hand at reporting there, they attended parliament. They also learned shorthand. Before the year was up, they were publishing their own little newspaper. But at the end of the year, the renewal of the English journalist’s work permit was refused. The school closed.
Dr Minnis’ common sense should tell him that in the UK and the USA there is such a large pool of experienced journalists from which to recruit and the financial resources of the large newspapers are such that, or course, they will employ staff for each separate position and one will not encroach upon the position of the other — although they have the ability and training to do so if required. In The Bahamas, with so few qualified journalists, they have to be versatile in their writing. Wherever the need, they fill in when required.
Dr Minnis said he found “better reporting in our daily newspapers in the business sections, where the writers report in more detail on critical issues, which will have a significant and long-term impact. It is telling that the headlines in the business sections are not tabloid in nature,” he said.
Other than Neil Hartnell of The Tribune, an experienced journalist with a BA degree in Economics and Journalism, who has a Bahamian reporter under him, most of the news in the Business section is produced by the Associated Press with staff reporting from all ends of the globe.
Dr Minnis seems to have an aversion to tabloids, not knowing that all tabloids are not sleaze. In Europe they massively outsell the broadsheets – delivering content in a manner which the majority of the public prefer.
Why even the old “Thunderer” — The Times of London – has gone tabloid in format. It had been printed in broadsheet for 219 years, but switched to compact size in 2014 in an effort to appeal to the younger reader and commuters using public transport. However, the Sunday Times remains a broadsheet.
Unfortunately, although Dr Minnis tried his best, for those of us in the profession we know that on Saturday night he had waded beyond his depth and did not understand the problems in his own country.
We congratulate Press Club president Anthony Capron and his club for a job well done — as an aging part of them, we know that it is not easy. Also congratulations to Anthony “Ace” Newbold on his appointment as the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary. We respect Mr Newbold as a fearless newsman, who will tell it like it is. We hope he tries to lengthen the prime minister’s vision.