By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
HOUSE Speaker Halson Moultrie launched a 32-minute attack against the media in the House of Assembly yesterday, declaring at the start of the sitting that he is prepared to lead reporters to Jesus if they target him.
This comes after he forced a reporter last week to delete a photo taken in the chamber of Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper, who was making a contribution to a debate. Speaker Moultrie, who said the photo was taken contrary to House rules, then criticised the quality of the Press.
It is unusual for speakers to use their seat in the chamber to answer critics outside Parliament. Throughout his polemic, Speaker Moultrie discussed matters without origin in any ongoing parliamentary debate, even referring to Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin’s challenge to Philip “Brave” Davis’ leadership of the Progressive Liberal Party in 2017 as he defended himself.
He said his statements were inspired by a story in Monday’s Tribune about his predecessor, Dr Kendal Major, who had described the House of Assembly as “tribal”.
Though Dr Major also called the functioning of Parliament “mediocre” and “unproductive”, Speaker Moultrie singled out his remark that reporters contacted him in the last week for “red meat”––a reaction to the current speaker’s recent conduct.
He said Dr Major’s comment reminded him of William Shakespeare’s play, the Merchant of Venice, in which a character, Shylock, requested a “pound of flesh” from another character as collateral for a loan.
“If journalists want flesh and blood,” Speaker Moultrie said, “they are going after the wrong person. If they want flesh and blood, they need Jesus. Jesus is the one whose flesh was broken and whose blood was shed and I have no difficulty with journalists going after me because I am prepared to lead them to Jesus.”
Speaker Moultrie then cautioned parliamentarians “to avoid short-term benefits that may satisfy the moment.” He did not elaborate. However, in the last week Deputy House Speaker Don Sanders, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands and Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller have all discussed Speaker Moultrie’s decision last week in the press with no one from the government as yet offering a categorical defence of his actions.
“Members of the media now equate their privilege in the Parliament with that of elected members,” Speaker Moultrie claimed. “What is incredible about this is members take no issues with it for the time being.”
Without providing evidence, the Nassau Village MP claimed that after Dr Major refused to give reporters “red meat,” Dr Major was attacked in editorials and faced “onslaught aimed at destroying his integrity, reputation and character.”
He also said young people who recently participated in Youth in Parliament sessions condemned social media and the mainstream press for engaging in “demeaning and negative practices.”
During his tenure, the Nassau Village MP has at times faced withering criticism, the most notable occurring last year after he blasted former parliamentary clerk Maurice Tynes and criticised Mr Davis for surrounding himself with “reprobates and perverts.” The controversy led to an unsuccessful vote of no confidence attempt against Speaker Moultrie, following which he apologised for his conduct.
He attracted criticism more recently when he recommended that China consider developing the southeast region of the Bahamas to shift the population from the northwestern side of the country. The comment was made during an official courtesy call without the backing of the Minnis administration and critics said he overstepped the boundaries of his role with the remark. Speaker Moultrie said it was his personal view.
Yesterday he tabled several news articles which he said are examples of “fake news” published by this newspaper and The Nassau Guardian.
“Thirdly, I will table this Nassau Guardian story on the 14th July 2018,” he said, referring to an article the newspaper published and later apologised for as the quotes were wrongly attributed to C A Smith, deputy governor general at the time. “This is what you call fake news, fake news. It never happened, they were completely wrong, the newspaper didn’t have the courtesy to contact the person who they wrote this headline story about before it was published. I don’t believe it was by mistake. It was a deliberate act of yellow journalism. Now, there were apologies. As a matter of fact, the newspaper, after accepting and acknowledging their wrong, made two apologies but that doesn’t exempt the fact that the story was published and the damage was already done.”
He also took aim at a Tribune story earlier this month about him denying the opposition’s request for a debate over the planning and execution of relief efforts concerning Hurricane Dorian. He said the story was “absolutely and completely untrue” and that after he applied the rules correctly, a quorum did not exist to facilitate debate on the topic. The PLP released a statement following that parliamentary sitting criticising his interpretation of the relevant rules.
He then turned his attention to Mr Davis, who told The Nassau Guardian last week that the Nassau Village MP is unfit to be speaker. He referred to a 2016 Tribune article in which Mr Davis criticised this newspaper for publishing the contents of Supreme Court affidavits that concerned Mr Davis.
“If your conclusion is the Speaker is unfit because he had a difficulty with the media, perhaps it could be extended that you are unfit for having a problem with the media,” he told Mr Davis.
He added: “When the honourable member for Englerston ran against you, 300 plus persons voted against you, so are we to conclude that 300 hundred plus voting members in your party think that you are unfit to be the leader or that the honourable member for Englerston is a better fit?”
Defending his decision to force a reporter to delete a photo last week, Speaker Moultrie said other countries that have a Westminster system have more conservative rules, insisting the Bahamas is not in the Dark Ages when it comes to Parliament’s rules.
He also called on the Rules and Procedures Committee of Parliament to meet to finalise House rules, saying he would give the press full access if the committee changes the rules to allow this.
“I should state for the record that I have no personal preference with the amount of access given to the press in the House of Parliament,” he said. “If the committee meets and decides that the press action should be full and complete, I will enforce those rules as dispassionately as I am enforcing the rules currently in existence.”