Wednesday, 17 August 2011 02:29
By Dr. Isaac Newton
Dear CEO and Co-founder , Your article entitled, “Mansoor Accuses Caribarena of Ransom” (Aug 16, 2011, Caribarena.com) was quite revealing of at least five fundamental concerns.
The first is that we might be witnessing the lines being blurred between definitions of free speech, which our Constitution protects, and the need to regulate new technologies.
To highlight one thing does not necessary undermine the other. How to structure checks and balances in an age of changing technologies through a mixture of self-regulation and cyber space laws won’t supply us with easy answers.
But obstructing the function of the new social media in the advancement of our freedom is a dangerous path to travel. A true criterion of the application of free speech with the use of new technologies is not in the power to curb or prescribe the mode in which free speech takes place. It is to maintain the right to dissent and a culture of critical advocacy.
Objectionable content leading to character defamation, immoral harassment and invasion of privacy should not be tolerated. Yet, this standard, though not exhaustive, cannot be made to be so unclear that every criticism of the government is banned or all hateful content is defendable.
“The Media” in its varied forms cannot foreclose on the indisputable rights of the people to freely express themselves in civil causes that keep public officials accountable to the common good. The fact of the matter is “freedom is not free not to be free.” Therefore, freedom can only survive the pressures of a growing democracy, if it is sincerely tested and tried by free speech. My point Dr Mansoor and all other government appointed and elected officials do not have the luxury to ignore the wide difference between the subtleties of the people’s resistance expressed in cause-driven advocacy, and harassment of public officials.
The second concern, judging from the content of your interview, is a preference for diversion over substance. Whereas free speech gives governments the space to keep order, ironically it opens the door for leaders to be disciplined by the people, not just discipline the people.
I was not satisfied with Dr Mansoor’s response when you pushed him for clarity on his relationship with the media. You pointed out his refusal either to answer pertinent questions or return inquiring phone calls. If he continues to promote the false notion of bullying the government, especially during times when journalists demand fair-game responses to decisions that are contrary to the good of the public, he is guilty of severing freedom of speech from its democratic value.
I think this is illustrative in the case of the cell phone towers and the optimal health implications it underscores -- a life and death matter which your editorial team has thoughtfully addressed, and one that the minister appears to be tragically dodging as if screening for prostrate cancer. As a mediacl doctor, I expected Dr Mansoor to show a lot more sensitivity to sensible, evidence-based practices that encourage people to live not only longer, but better. Good medicine entails public health prescriptions that preserve quality of health for all.
To cajole governments to do the just thing in the name of the people is not the same thing as terrorizing the reputation of ministers or disturbing the peace.
The third concern conveyed is the pretense that the people don’t have the moral and democratic obligation to set the government’s agenda. This is a pretense barred of all sound judgment and robbed of every ethical foundation. I believe Dr Mansoor is participating in a mysterious mindset conceived around the notion of “the media versus the government". This is myopic thinking, but it is fed by a prideful attitude with some ministers of government assuming the role of a righteous group of leaders facing an ungrateful bunch of people. Such a perspective is more prone to obscure than clarify important issues of national development and regional progress.
At best, casting the government’s actions and inactions in a moral framework to prove that “the media” is evil is terribly inappropriate. I detect the politics of disguise. It operates to hide ministers’ poor performance, conceal tendencies for wrongdoings, and downplay the need for operational improvement. For these reasons, I hate self-righteous dispositions that manipulate secular outcomes in the name of heavenly fervour. Dr Mansoor’s verbal and non-verbal behaviours as you described them during your meeting with him mirror an unspoken desire to invoke “fear and trembling". This technique must be condemned.
Fourth, the substance of thriving democracies is by nature fought on a conceptual and practical level. No government official should restrict important debates over national development to a narrow focus of handicapping free speech. To do so is to display a hidden agenda to reinforce passive acquiescence to whatever the government does. And this shrinks the people’s voice to mindless loyalty. “The Media” cannot and should not allow Caribbean democracy to become worthless and bereft of the power of the people both to affirm and disaffirm their governments’ decisions and behaviours.
The fifth and final concern is quite potent to our freedom. That is, the validity of the UPP government rests squarely on the consent of the people. And the people have the indelible right to revoke the contract they made with their leaders, if leaders turn out to be dysfunctional, disregard their collective interests, or betray their hopes and dreams. Ultimately, the preservation of free speech should push political leaders to execute initiatives of prosperity for every citizen and resident of our beautiful islands.
Otherwise, free speech is dead and bad governance will flourish. Irresponsible leaders should suffer rejection at the polls, or through organised public protests that demand their resignations. I think IT Minister Dr Edmond Mansoor’s attitude appears as if the legitimacy of his authority is solely ratified by his appointed position. Such legitimacy is validated by the very voice of the people. A free and critical press and your efforts to maintain the peace of the land are expressions of the people’s voice.
Perhaps we should be very sensitive to Dr Mansoor’s overall somber mood as detailed in your article. Supporters and opponents of the United Progressive Party (UPP) regime, if they agree on nothing else, concur that the government’s failures shouldn’t threaten free speech. And it does not matter whether those failures take the form of not reducing crime or not balancing debt deflation with economic growth or erasing the image of a promise keeper. I support all media houses throughout the Caribbean region that labour to maintain our democracy. These media houses are powerful teaching tools when they align the needs of the people with the priorities of political leaders.
Antiguans and Barbudans, and by extension every Caribbeaner should continue to safeguard transparency, peak performance, and integrity in public office. The need for an energetic government is practically supported by the benefits of a free, fair, and fearless press. It is possible to have it all in the chase for nation building.
Bright and Sunny regards,
Dr. Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.