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The media must not and will not be silenced

Messenger man: some observers said that Sean Spicer had a choice of carrying out President Trump’s orders or resigning (Photograph by Reuters)

Those who fear truth usually have something to hide, and for that reason the free press around the world will always be attacked for ripping off the covers to reveal truth. That should be the hallmark for any true democracy, operating on the principle of transparency at the highest level.

Recent events in America, where the free press have been ostracised by President Donald Trump, has sent shock waves throughout the industry, which is charged with searching out the truth, irrespective of what is revealed.

The President’s description of journalists as the most dishonest people on Earth creates a tone of mistrust that runs in both directions and should be a significant concern to those Americans who yearn to be kept informed during times when cyberspace is awash with negative information.

This became clear when Trump was clearly upset over inauguration news coverage, which highlighted a lack of crowd support compared with the Barack Obama inauguration eight years earlier.

Trump’s White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, in a one-way briefing, took issue with those reports, saying the President’s inauguration was the biggest ever. He made his statement and left without taking questions. That left most of the media boiling, since there was no effort by the press to focus on numbers in attendance.

However, since Trump’s team brought up the subject, various news services quickly checked the archives, and produced pictorial evidence that proved without doubt that the statement by the press secretary was clearly incorrect.

As news services scrambled to ascertain what the fuss was about concerning crowds, a number of reporters had concluded that the President must have dispatched the new press secretary to launch an attack on them, with a view to keeping his loyal supporters solidly behind him. The pictures of the Washington Mall, flashed around the world, clearly showed a vast difference between the amount of people attending Obama’s inauguration and those present for the new president.

Some observers said the press secretary, who apparently is well respected in journalism circles, had a choice of carrying out Trump’s orders or resigning. At least those were views expressed openly on national television.

What followed instead of big discussions on administration policies was heated debate over how the new administration could become so obsessed with attendance figures, which was never an issue. Once again the press came under fire for producing evidence that disputed the official White House statement. A disturbing factor here is that it is common for dictators to resent a free press, but not in a country that prides itself on democratic principles.

This leaves many people wondering just what is really behind the new administration. In time they may prove there is no need for concern. However, so far, they have yet to send signals that truth and accuracy really matter in dealing with the people’s business.

The massive demonstrations around the world, with many millions peacefully protesting against some policy objectives of the Trump Administration, was evidence enough that the media would have its work cut out.

The media must and should ask questions on any matter, and it is the responsibility of those in positions of power to provide answers as accurately as possible. Truth is supposed to matter and it should be seen to matter.

In Bermuda, there have been mixed views on the demonstrations that occurred on December 2 last year in the vicinity of our House of Parliament, which resulted in police and protesters being injured. Even without a full inquiry into what happened, there was little doubt that the protest about a new airport was far from peaceful.

Anyone who understands the word “peaceful” knows it means compliance with basic rules governing public demonstrations. This is where good leadership is required to ensure that there is no violation of rules designed to maintain civil order while exercising the right to protest.

No one needs a law degree to understand that attempts to block MPs from entering Parliament to deal with the people’s business is a move that violates public order. Such action places police and protesters in a situation where confrontation is inevitable. That, Bermuda can do without.

When demonstrations get out of hand, restoring order is far from easy, with anger and tempers dictating behaviour. The job of the media is to report as accurately as possible what they see and hear, rather than provide versions of an event to avoid upsetting one side or the other.

The Bermudian people need to send a message to all leaders that there is too much at stake for negative rhetoric to encourage any repeat of what happened last month. We can and should do better in working out differences of opinion, no matter how sensitive the issue.

With Facebook and Twitter bursting with unlimited views on all manner of topics, the professional free press will not be silenced in its task of seeking truth. The press may not be perfect, but they are committed to serve without bias. That is something we should hope never is allowed to fade.