IT takes a level head to be the Speaker of the House of Assembly. It is a position that requires balance, to stand up to conflicting points of view and to weather criticism.
Which makes Halson Moultrie’s latest bout of sniping at the press from his elevated position all the more worrisome – because he seems to have far from a level head when it comes to the media.
Following his recent accusations of “fake news” by the press, this column challenged him to provide examples. He used time in the House yesterday to bring those examples – so what were the egregious problems that caused him to lambast the media?
Remember, he spoke of the media having “descended to a level in this country that needs to be addressed” and said of the press: “They are competing with social media and as a consequence a number of false reports, fake reports and opinionated stories are appearing in the newspapers”.
That sounds terrible – so surely his examples were horrifying, yes? Well, not so much.
He tabled an article from The Nassau Guardian where quotes were wrongly attributed to CA Smith, deputy governor general at the time – an error that newspaper later apologised for and corrected.
He also tabled an article from our own paper earlier this month. He didn’t call us after the article, or speak to the reporter. No, rather his first volley was from the chair of the House. What was the matter of national import in this article? It was about him denying the opposition’s request for a debate over relief efforts after Hurricane Dorian. He said yesterday the story was “absolutely and completely untrue” and that after he applied the rules correctly, a quorum did not exist to allow the debate. The PLP had a different opinion, and issued a statement criticising his interpretation of the rules.
Mr Moultrie also quoted his predecessor, Dr Kendal Major, from a story in Monday’s Tribune, saying reporters had contacted him looking for “red meat” after Mr Moultrie’s recent conduct. His quote was rather selective, though, as he neglected to mention the rest of Dr Major’s quotes, calling the current House of Assembly “tribal”, “mediocre” and “unproductive”. He said Dr Major’s character was subsequently attacked in editorials – but he didn’t provide those.
There was one more complaint – about comments from PLP leader Philip ‘Brave’ Davis calling Mr Moultrie unfit to be Speaker.
You’ll notice a theme here. Apart from the CA Smith story, all the other supposedly terrible fake news stories are about Speaker Moultrie.
And this is what he chooses to use up parliamentary time for – in a matter of self-interest.
This did not come about through a debate in the House, he claimed the time for himself for this, and what has he got? An error that was corrected, a quibble about the interpretation of a story about which there are different opinions, the Opposition leader saying the Speaker’s not up to the task, and a complaint that reporters rang up his predecessor to ask his opinion. That’s it? That’s your fake news? The matter that the nation must address is, largely, about you?
This sounds very much like a personal bone that the Speaker is picking on the public’s time – and that’s where that level head is needed.
It’s time to put this behind you, Mr Moultrie. You are not emerging from this spat with any grace. As you do move on, we would note there is one thing we agree with you about from your tirade yesterday – you noted that the Rules and Procedures Committee should meet to finalise House rules. Parliament’s rules are outdated in several areas, and confusing. It is about time they were modernised and one single set of rules put in place to bring clarity.
That would be a productive outcome to this unseemly episode – after all, the goal should always be to improve matters for the people that Parliament represents.
And one more thing – if you can’t bring a level head to matters, you should consider whether you should be the Speaker of the House.