Sunday, 29 July 2012 02:29
By G.A.Dwyer Astaphan
The term “Fourth Estate” was coined by Edmund Burke, an English Parliamentarian.
He said in 1787 that there were three “Estates” in Parliament, namely, the Lords Spiritual (the clergy), the Lords Temporal (the non-clergy members of the House of Lords), and the Commoners (the members of the House of Commons).
These “Estates” represented the various interest groups, from the monarch down, and held high power in English society of the day.
Burke said that they needed to be monitored and kept in check by the people, lest they might get carried away, engage in excesses, bring the Parliament into disrepute, undermine the institutions and processes of democracy that were being embedded in British life, and destabilise society and an economy that was taking off like a rocket, thanks to the Industrial Revolution.
But who would keep the three Estates in check? Burke’s answer was the English media (referred to at the time as the “press” at the time because it was all print). And he dubbed the media “the Fourth Estate”.
It seems he recognised the power and the responsibility of the media, and the importance to democracy of having, not just a free media, but a free and responsible media.
Unfettered freedom means anarchy, and unchecked, unpunished misconduct or incompetence by leaders means dictatorship. And it is very much the responsibility of the media to help in navigating a society away from those two terrible extremes.
Here in St. Kitts & Nevis, our Fourth Estate is not doing well. Let us look at it.
ZBC (ZIZ) is a Government-owned radio and television station. That means it is owned by the people of St.Kitts & Nevis.
Our Constitution states in no uncertain terms that every person is entitled freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association.
Every person who becomes a Member of Parliament or Government Minister has to swear or affirm that he or she will uphold and preserve the Constitution and do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.
Yet, although the people of this Federation (individually and through their associations) regardless of political opinions, etc., have a constitutional right to express themselves, all the more so on a radio-TV station that is theirs, and although the political directorate, under oath or affirmation, and as servants of the people, are duty-bound to uphold and preserve that and other constitutional rights of the people, the political directorate, in total disregard for the Constitution, for the people, and for the trust vested in them by the people, nevertheless brazenly and thuggishly control ZIZ as their own private property.
If the British Government were to try that with the BBC, the media (not to mention the legal community, and just about every other organisation in the country) would hound the administration out of office, and the people would revolt. That is how democracy is supposed to work: when leaders do not do what they are supposed to do, they are undone by the Fourth Estate and by the people.
But have you heard much more than a peep out of the Fourth Estate, or out of the Media Association, or out of the people of this Federation on the abuses of ZIZ by the powers that be? I have not.
The sad truth is, but for a few notable exceptions, the members of the Fourth Estate in St. Kitts & Nevis have no balls! They are afraid of the Prime Minister, treating him with kid gloves when they attend his press conferences, while they have gumption for Lindsey Grant, Mark Brantley and others.
The Prime Minister likes to boast about how the media has opened up under his watch. The truth is, while the number of media entities has increased, the quality of the media has not improved.
How many journalists in this country tenaciously and systematically investigate matters? Indeed, what percentage of the political and economic matters of significant public importance have the media introduced for public debate?
And when given the lead on stories, how many of our journalists have actually pursued such leads?
How many phone calls, BBMs, emails and other messages go out from and on behalf of Government every week in an effort to influence, pressure, and even intimidate media houses, and to fill their space and time with Government propaganda?
How much work are media houses willing to do? What sort of independence and journalism are we seeing, when over 60 per cent of the local “news” content in newspapers are press releases from either the Federal Government or the Nevis island Administration?
It makes one wonder why these people are in the newspaper business at all, with all of this surrogate behaviour! Do they not understand the responsibility of the Fourth Estate? And do they not recognise the propensities of this leader?
Let me single out for exception from this syndrome of surrogacy, the Observer Newspaper and SKNVibes ( which is an internet site). Though still somewhat short of the mark in terms of actual investigative work, the journalists at these two entities are trying. Maybe they need more resources behind them.
And what about our radio stations? With the exception of VON Radio and WINN FM, both also in need of improvement (like the rest of us), there is very little journalistic enterprise and tenacity. The other stations seem to be primarily focused on entertainment, willing to get the story from someone else rather than to take the lead on it, and more into “soft” news anyway.
Then some of them host talk shows, which draw listeners, callers and, of course, increased commercial revenue. And the stations make news items out of these talk shows.
But the truth is, despite the fact that the talk shows do offer some information and education to the public, they have not proven themselves to be sufficiently impactful to effect significant social change.
I must, however, single out Everette “Webbo” Herbert of VON Radio’s “Let’s Talk” and Ian “Patches” Liburd of WINN FM’s “Voices”. These two gentlemen prepare themselves well for their programmes and offer the opportunity of information, education and edification when they go before the microphones.
There are also some other very informative and beautifully delivered programmes such as that on the Constitution by Tapley Seaton QC, Tuesday mornings on WINN FM.
Sadly, however, there is much room for improvement in the entire radio community.
Let us put it simply: the Fourth Estate is involved in business, focused on the bottom line. Its members do not want to offend the powers that be, and in an effort to stay afloat, they have, to a large extent, turned their backs on their traditional mandate to be a key guardian of the people’s constitutional rights and of democracy, and to stop errant leaders and the abuses that come with their leadership.
And they are scared of their own shadows.
Almost anything that is said on air is followed by “...cannot substantiate that”. Instead of obsessing themselves with what they can or cannot substantiate, they need to get out there and investigate.
Virtually every week, Operation Rescue delivers an issue of significance to the people of this country. And it seems that almost never has any such issue been investigated or deeply investigated by any media house in this country -- because they may be afraid of where the investigation might lead. They are afraid to incur the wrath of those who might be embarrassed by the truth, rather than being afraid to disobey their sacred mandate as the Fourth Estate in the cause of democracy and good governance.
We will have some more leads over the next week or two. Let us see what the Fourth Estate will do with them. Let us see if our Fourth Estate will step up to the plate and behave like a truly free and responsible guardian of the public interest.