FRONT PORCH: Responsibilities, rights and obligations of a free press

IT is the responsibility of professional media to hold up an undistorted mirror to the society, to keep the people informed about what is happening in the country, about the functioning of its national institutions – especially its political institutions – and about the state of the society in general.

IT is the responsibility of professional media to hold up an undistorted mirror to the society, to keep the people informed about what is happening in the country, about the functioning of its national institutions – especially its political institutions – and about the state of the society in general.

RESPONSIBLE, competent and professional media are indispensable to the maintenance, development and flowering of a democracy.

It is doubtful that a democracy can survive at all without a vigorous and intelligent media capable of asking penetrating and incisive questions of government, business, civic, religious and other leaders and officials, as well as critical questions of itself.

Freedom of the press is an enumerated right in most national constitutions, including The Bahamas. Press freedom is sine qua non for a flourishing democracy. So, too, a responsible press.

And as with all freedoms in a democracy there are concomitant responsibilities and duties, including a commitment to fairness and probity.

The freeing of the broadcast media and the dismantlement of state control of radio and television was an extraordinary advance in freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the Bahamas. It helped to deepen and to broaden our democracy.

Talk radio allows for a diversity of opinion and unrelenting and often colourful criticism of political leaders. Citizens get to offer and to vent their views on a host of matters, even when they are factually wrong, unintelligible and myopic. Talk radio is also a significant moneymaker for some broadcast houses.

As with any media, talk radio has featured hosts and broadcasters who have abused the medium, and whom a number of the stations have had to let go. This medium can easily be abused by crusaders with unfettered agendas and certain mercenaries.

It is essential in the wake of the social media-enabled proliferation of sources of information these days to note the distinction between professional or institutional media and the unprofessional and sometimes reckless social media which is wide open to egregious abuse.

When the dubious and fake information on social media is utilized as a source of news, the media landscape deteriorates even further. More reputable news organizations still serve as gatekeepers, though some news consumers often prefer ideologically driven news and information skewed to their biases.

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how susceptible many are to fake news and information which they forward without checking the provenance and veracity of the falsehoods they help perpetuate, often giddily.

A society should expect that its institutional media - newspapers, television and radio - are populated by responsible, well-trained journalists and managers.


It is the responsibility of professional media to hold up an undistorted mirror to the society, to keep the people informed about what is happening in the country, about the functioning of its national institutions – especially its political institutions – and about the state of the society in general.

It is also the responsibility of professional media to lead the development of public opinion and attitudes by providing intelligent and vigorous commentary on every aspect of a nation’s life and to provide forums for the free expression of public opinion.

The 50th anniversary of independence is a prime opportunity for the media to provide space for widespread discussion on this milestone, including the country’s direction. This may include various programming, guest columnists and other features.

The state of the media in The Bahamas today cannot be described as its best. For example, it is highly irresponsible on the part of owners of radio and television outlets to inflict on the public ignorant and irresponsible commentators merely because they happen to be glib or entertaining.

Unfortunately, very rarely do the media hold up a mirror to themselves in the vigorous manner they do with others. There seems to be precious little self-criticism, no credible media watchdogs or ombudsmen.

Despite relentless criticism of politicians, when some in the media are criticised by a politician they often become apoplectic and reflexively claim that the freedom of the press is under attack, which is typically exceedingly overblown.

Is there a clear, identifiable code of ethics for the press in The Bahamas or a press club-like media oversight group as in other jurisdictions which help to maintain press accountability?


Every human institution - government, church, corporate - require internal and external accountability mechanisms. So do the media. Institutions typically fail at self-reflection and accountability absent external accountability.

It is a good thing to see so many relatively young people being attracted to television journalism, but it is sometimes painfully obvious from their use of the language that some of them suffer from the lack of more mature oversight and mentoring.

The mangling and sometimes butchering of English is painful to read and watch, as is the improper pronunciation of words, names and other items. There is not a week that goes by when the evening news broadcasts are free of basic mistakes. The state broadcaster, ZNS, is notorious for such screeching errors, which are alternately sad and comic.

Even our two venerable dailies, which play an essential role in our democracy, sometimes fall quite short. It seems that the Fleet Street tabloid disease has infected some. One paper features occasional commentaries that read more like tirades.

In addition to skill and judgment in gathering and reporting the news, command of the language is an absolute necessity for professional journalists.

It is the most important tool at their disposal and they ought to be better at language than the rest of us. The population should be able to look to the media for examples of proper English usage.

Aspects of the Bahamian media have sadly shifted to the same activist positions we see in various media overseas. Rather than just providing the news and facts, some push their biases, agendas and personal grievances to the public dressed as news.

Some in their commentary express near hate for certain public figures. Week after week there is an attack on the same people. Such a mindset risks coloring one’s news judgment.


A former noted journalist recalls that in the 1950s and 60s, how he and other reporters took meticulous notes of House proceedings, dutifully reporting on debates in various newspapers.

While there may have been no golden age of journalism, the reportage in contemporary journalism in The Bahamas is often wanting. This is not to deny the challenges of media houses in finding capable journalists, the rise of social media, and the economics of journalism, including declining revenues.

There is a US-styled gotcha coverage in certain parts of the media. Some radio programs are FOX News-like shows more interested in shock journalism than providing genuine context and insight on the news.

During electoral contests in The Bahamas and overseas, some in the media mostly report on personalities and the barbed exchanges between leaders and candidates. It is often easier to report the combat of politics instead of detailing and analysing policies, which are less sexy and spectacular than the cut and thrust of campaigns.

During elections here at home and overseas, various commentators, including media pundits, often tut-tut and upbraid politicians for their political attacks, while gleefully reporting these attacks tabloid-style because they make for juicy copy.

Sensationalism is as old as journalism but it should not obscure genuine policy debates, ideas and the news beyond the din of the moment.

Just as politicians have democratic responsibilities so does the press, who play an essential role in providing the public with news coverage that should be as in-depth as possible and non-jaundiced.

There are examples in North America of fair and reasonable news. In the United States, the PBS Newshour delivers facts and sober commentary. It uses rational analysis when considering matters.

The purpose of the Newshour is to inform and educate. It does not seek “to go after” any public or private figure.

In Canada, the CBC News similarly gives the news as it is. When watching its coverage, there is no obsession. It presents a diverse set of stories and fairly airs the views of various sides on issues of national importance.

In a democracy, journalists must have the maximum freedom to do their essential work. All freedoms also demand tremendous responsibility, restraint and an ethic and duty of fairness.

The media should be as vigorous in demanding accountability of itself as it is of others, including public officers and politicians.


birdiestrachan 1 month, 2 weeks ago

The editorial page of a newspaper writes,we do not agree or we say and I often wonder who is we the staff? The board members ? The FNM
Party ,.?The former PM often quotes this paper so WE must be the former P M and the editor I am just not sure who is WE. .?.


BONEFISH 1 month, 2 weeks ago

A bahamian living aboard made this comment about the press in the bahamas. You have stenographers and not reporters in the Bahamas.That comment was made on an online forum. A next comment was here in the Bahamas,you have mainly newsreaders and they were not good at that. There is little investigative or analytical journalism in the Bahamas.

I no longer watch or listen to ZNS for news. ZNS is mainly a propaganda tool for the party in power.. Many journalists pass through various newsrooms to more lucrative positions. This PLP government has hired numerous journalists as part of their public relations machine.

I cringe at some of the comments of a certain radio host. i say to myself, this man could not have been a member of parliament in this country

The press in the Bahamas seems to have lost the script. They by in large don't play their role in this society.


birdiestrachan 1 month, 2 weeks ago

The tribune has always been my choice , many years ago, I use to read to my friends reports the same article different papers I would say to them take note of the difference the way the same story is written , they say the tribune hires the English , is it possible we could have learned by now


themessenger 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Sadly, no longer reporters, now merely repeaters................


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