Leaks, grudges and their poisonous consequences
Someone within the Bermuda Tourism Authority believes that an internal e-mail circulated by the chief executive that effectively takes The Royal Gazette to task for misleading the public is newsworthy.
The leaker, whose future at the BTA must surely be in doubt, struck the jackpot by recycling the message from Kevin Dallas, which in and of itself was misleading, to the one medium with a sharpish axe to grind against The Royal Gazette, its proprietor being a former employee whose departure was acrimonious to put it mildly.
This non-story was compounded by television picking it up on what apparently was, as they say, a slow news day and running with it — on the evening news and then again on the radio for morning commuters.
What is to be taken from this if you are Joe Public is that the RG has, yet again, done the island a disservice simply for having the temerity to ask questions and then write a story on the basis of the responses.
Which brings us to the genesis of this string of disinformation: Jamahl Simmons, the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, holds a press conference to announce Cheryl-Ann Mapp as the new chairwoman of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission. We send a reporter who in our estimation stands head and shoulders as a journalist above anything that could be found on this island and whose integrity is beyond reproach.
She asks searching questions, particularly about the minister’s plan to bring the casino gaming commission under ministerial control and about whether the same will happen to the BTA, the other government board whose members are appointed for fixed terms to avoid political interference.
The transcript at that point goes like this:
RG: “The BTA, I think, is the same. The BTA has four-year fixed terms, doesn’t it?”
RG: “So are you going to change the BTA?”
Minister: “And there has been change.”
RG: “No, I know there has been a change of chairman but you haven’t changed the legislation. But isn’t the legislation the same — a four-year fixed term?”
Minister: “At the moment, we have a mutually respectful relationship based on trust.”
RG: “That wasn’t what I was asking.”
Minister: “The answer is that at the moment there is a mutually respectful trustworthy relationship.”
RG: “So if there wasn’t, you would change the legislation?”
Minister: “You might very well think that. I think it must be understood clearly that the tail will not wag the dog in this government. We are providing funding for these entities and while we respect their independence, which should be based on their expertise in their various fields, there has to be a measure of policy direction when and if necessary.”
The only context to be gleaned from this exchange is that in a hypothetical situation, should the BTA displease the minister, he would be within his right to effect change, disrupting the perceived and legislated autonomy of the organisation.
For Dallas, in attempting to alleviate any concerns from within his organisation, to then accuse us of taking the minister’s comments out of context was naive at best, disingenuous at worst.
Whichever explanation fits, the narrative was taken out of his hands when a supposedly trusted employee felt that this was news to be shared with the wider public via a small website with an even smaller following.
Television, mischievously or not, provided the Super Mario Bros-esque power-up that was required to carry this mainstream and, voila, it was off to the races.
The pertinent sections of this leaked e-mail again?
“The story in question is actually about the appointment of a new Chair for the Gaming Commission, but the way in which the story was presented has created an interesting sideshow about the BTA.
“The Minister’s comments are taken out of context, and the reporting doesn’t match the spirit of what was actually said.
“The Minister’s prepared statement actually makes no mention of us. In questioning afterwards by Sam Strangeways he was asked about the BTA as the other obvious example of what she called ‘fixed- term board appointments’.
“Minister Simmons replied that the BTA board had already had a change [of] leadership that he felt appropriate given the change of government, and that he and the BTA ‘enjoy mutually respectful relationship based on trust’.
“When pushed further he said that — in the hypothetical situation where [Government] and BTA did not work as partners — ‘you could reasonably expect’ that he would look to a legislative remedy.”
How the Gazette story published last Friday can be deemed to have taken the tourism minister’s comments out of context where it pertains to the BTA, when he was actually responding to a BTA-related question, is a mystery.
So why the “story”? What is the motivation if not to engage or collude in an attempt to denigrate the island’s only newspaper and bravest media?
It carries the same smear-campaign undertones of what could be found in the House of Assembly last week when the Minister of Education hijacked the congratulations segment of the session to criticise The Royal Gazette for not being at the Berkeley Institute’s awards night.
In launching this unjustified and unprovoked attack, which David Burt later associated himself with, Diallo Rabain — in intimating that our interest in Bermuda’s youth is piqued only when they are caught up in misdeed — conveniently overlooked that in September The Royal Gazette produced five pages of bumper coverage celebrating Berkeley’s 120 years in existence, and only three days before the cheapest of cheap shots from the minister we had front-page coverage, plus more, of CedarBridge’s 20th anniversary.
That is some memory lapse. A part in While You Were Sleeping 2 beckons surely. For in this amnesia of convenience he also neglected to state that no other media were present at the event in question. Nor were any media invited — a salient fact for those not of a clairvoyant disposition.
Even Peter Gallagher in the original romcom had the wherewithal to first survey his surroundings after snapping out of a coma-induced loss of memory rather than launching instantly on the offensive against an easy target — and with the added shield of parliamentary privilege.
In the absence of any defence coming particularly from the Berkeleyites in the House — and there are many — or from the Opposition in general, we again are left to defend ourselves or allow the poisoning of our product to seep farther into society.
Which may very well happen anyway, but our entire existence is predicated on getting to the truth by way of asking the difficult questions.
This can make you unpopular in some circles, but that is no reason to down tools and play dead. We dust ourselves off and we come again. And again and again.
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