'Premier never mastered dealing with the media'
A co-founder of a newspaper himself, Premier Ewart Brown has always kept a keener interest in the media than most politicians — and it's probably fair to say he hasn't always liked what he's read.
And as with many aspects of Dr. Brown's tenure, his combative approach — repeatedly stating he enjoys fighting back against the press — finds favour in some corners, but criticism in others.
He's been backed to the hilt by supporters such as The Worker's Voice editor LaVerne Furbert, who has championed his attacks on a media she describes as dangerous and disrespectful; while core PLP members have frequently cheered at public events whenever Dr. Brown has lashed out at
The Royal Gazette or Mid-Ocean News.
However, political commentator Tom Vesey, a former Bermuda Sun editor, argues Dr. Brown never mastered dealing with the media, thereby creating an unnecessary gulf between himself and the people.
Some in the Progressive Labour Party have also criticised the Premier's approach, with Government backbencher and VSB court reporter Ashfield DeVent accusing him of creating a bogeyman with this newspaper.
Dr. Brown, who co-founded the weekly Bermuda Times which ran from 1987 to 1996, brought his relationship with the media into the spotlight by introducing the concept of "plantation questions" a few months before he became Premier.
Saying he would no longer answer questions he believes would not be put to a white politician, Dr. Brown's stock went up in some PLP circles, but outside the party he was accused of simply coming up with a tactic to avoid having to answer awkward questions.
Since then, he's repeatedly stated the press is part of a "Combined Opposition"; at his recent media roundtable event he said the Combined Opposition consisted of people who don't want to improve race relations, or oppose Independence, and "those who want quiet and not peace".
Sources close to the Premier say he avidly reads
The Royal Gazette every morning, laughing as he points out grammatical errors but criticising the placement of stories or use of photographs.
At one stage he ordered his staff to reduce contact with this newspaper because of what he described as a toxic atmosphere; he also cut advertising in the
Gazette, claiming it would be more effective to advertise in the electronic media instead, while continuing to advertise in the Bermuda Sun.
He has refused to give an interview with any
Royal Gazette political reporter throughout his tenure, saying it's because Government hasn't been treated fairly.
He tells a story about how this newspaper would paint him as a chicken thief and says we mischievously ran articles saying former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was unpopular, in an attempt to trick readers into thinking Ewart Brown was unpopular.
Dr. Brown poked fun at the demise of the Mid-Ocean News last year, drawing cheers from PLP supporters at the annual conference by hinting he'd like
The Royal Gazette to go the same way, saying someone had told him: "One down, one to go."
But one person who has worked closely with the Premier said while part of his animosity towards those two newspapers is because of what they have historically represented, some of it appears to be staged to curry favour with the PLP's grassroots.
Other media organisations describe the Premier as accessible, and Dr. Brown points to the passing of Public Access To Information legislation under his watch as an example of his commitment to transparency.
Asked about Dr. Brown's relationship with the media, Mr. Vesey said: "Dealing with the media — be it friendly or hostile, wise or ignorant — is a basic political skill that Dr. Brown never mastered. Without this skill, there was always an unnecessary gulf between him and the people. His intentions were unclear to people, at least an awful lot of them, so people were always suspicious. That's reflected in the poll numbers.
"Dr. Brown can be relaxed, charming, smart and insightful. His close friends and supporters know this but he didn't share it with the rest of Bermuda.
"I think you lead a people, to some extent, by holding their hands, especially in stressful situations. Dr. Brown wasn't very good at holding hands.
"Dr. Brown had grievances with the media but so what? All politicians do. He wanted to start his own newspaper at one point. But the fact was he had to deal with the media that existed now, with all its faults. Even tiny Bermuda is too big for one man to communicate properly with the people without using the media as a go-between."
Ms Furbert said yesterday: "In my 40 plus years of being actively involved in Bermudian politics, I have not seen a leader of this Country being as vilified by the media, in particular by the daily newspaper and the now defunct Mid-Ocean News, as Dr. Brown.
"I don't think people really have a problem with editorialising, such as the editor through his columns, however, when reporters give their opinion via news stories, we have a problem.
"As I see it
The Royal Gazette, the Mid-Ocean News, Stuart Hayward and Larry Burchall collectively have used thousands of column inches to vilify Dr. Brown, rather than report the news or present fair opinions.
"He has been accused of spinning the tourism figures although these figures are prepared by civil servants, stealing cedar beams although there has never been any proof or even a hint of theft on his behalf, and he has been accused of being a dictator.
"I find it amusing that the media continued to negatively highlight the fact that Dr. Brown sold a house to Bermuda Housing Corporation to be used for Bermudian tenants, yet the same media praised Sir Henry Tucker for selling a piece of his property, Camden, when he was the Government leader, to the Government which is now used as the Premier's official residence."
Veteran VSB journalist Bryan Darby said to the Premier at this month's media roundtable event: "You have been kind enough in the past to say that you found the news coverage of VSB to be usually fair and responsible.
"Perhaps that and the fact that I've been reporting Bermuda's governments for 50 years gives me the right to wonder if you realise how misguided and damaging your frequent attacks on the media have been and to ask you why you thought this was good for democracy?"
Dr. Brown responded: "Well I don't think that I've had frequent and sustained attacks, at least it hasn't felt that I have conducted frequent and sustained attacks. But I don't think that in a democracy it is fair for it to be a one-way street and so when there were times when the media was piling it on, it was my turn to come back.
"And I think that we owe that to the people to indicate that there is some fight left in politicians and in Government when they report stories like 'the Premier's missing', 'the Premier's lost.'"
What working class people say about Dr. Brown – Page 8