Free media = free society

There is a saying that goes, “You don’t miss the water until the well runs dry” — a true maxim that has so many variations as examples in our lives.

I am amazed at the tenacity of many of our retailers who continue to keep their doors open, refusing to cave in despite the dismal forecast for the retail sector. Bermuda does not have the luxury of a large population, and it is amazing what a mobilised and energetic population is able to provide simply because it has the numbers to support a diverse array of services.

So before anyone complains about what we don’t have, we must appreciate that we do have something — even if there is a deficience. We have a press who have been reduced over the past decade to one daily newspaper. Broadcast has had similar attrition.

Even when we had three newspapers and a complement of broadcast stations, we still suffered through the lack of journalism.

The term “the fourth estate” is used to characterise the strength of the media’s significance and role they play. To be regarded as an equal partner to the judiciary, the executive branch and the legislature signify an important function.

The function of the fourth estate basically testifies to the right of the populace in an ideal and open society to know what is happening in their country.

As long as the information does not compromise national security or bring unjustified harm to any individual or group, its importance to the public should not be denied or suppressed.

Again, with such a small population, we will not have paparazzi or teams of journalists scratching for details of a story.

Journalism in our case is reduced to reporting the bare facts of events as they happen. We pass at times life-altering legislation, but all we get is the news of the Act or Bill passing through Parliament.

What the possible effects of the Act are is not covered; rather, we are entertained by the political parties throwing the criticisms, rebuttals and defences but very little useful analysis to enable the public to gauge the consequences or opportunities flowing from the Act’s passing.

This is why Letters to the Editor and op-eds are important and even crucial to the overall healthy function of a society such as Bermuda, with its limited population.

Additionally, it places an extra burden on the media to allow the expressions as long as they are not libellous, absolutely distasteful or lewd.

It is unfortunate when a political entity takes aim at restricting the press, which may be the reason why at least one newspaper disappeared, but it can hardly be criticised if the lone press is in any way timid, defensive or beholden to any sector or party within the overall society. Knowledge is cleansing. Wherever knowledge is suppressed, turbulence develops. In some jurisdictions, circumstances where turbulence is an undercurrent, commissions such as like the “Truth Commission” in South Africa are necessary to bring quiet and also to act as a deterrent for future generations against engaging in similarly unwarranted behaviour.

Commissions can be costly, however, given that our bar association still has not approved and enabled the ability for a matter to be represented in court based on merit and remunerated through an arrangement between lawyer and client, a commission is perhaps the only road to justice for those with little or no means of affording representation.

It is we who decide what type of world we want to live in and having access to information that allows the public to be informed is what characterises our society.

If any want to determine whether their society is free and open, or full of tyranny and suppression, show me your media.

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Published Jan 14, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 14, 2019 at 7:22 am)

Free media = free society

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