Editorial: A road on a slippery slope

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November 2 was International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. In her message to the world, Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, said, “Justice is a cornerstone of a free society. It dissuades those who threaten freedom of expression and emboldens those who stand to defend it. This is why injustice against journalists is so costly for all societies.”
Now, it is obvious that what obtains in our bit of paradise is nothing compared to the plight of journalists in various parts of the world where democracy is nothing but a word and free speech is stifled. That said, we stand in solidarity with our fellow journalists around the world as we seek to do nothing more than to educate and inform.
Having said that, you may be wondering why we even raise the issue if we live in a democratic society where people can speak freely (mostly). The reason is actually very simple. It is because there is a tomorrow. Over the past few years, we have witnessed an increasing hostility towards the media, and that hostility is driven by politics. Imaginary worlds are now described as “alternative facts,” and news that is not supportive of a particular ideology is branded as “fake news.”
As this political divisiveness gains momentum, so do the attacks on the media. It is a slippery slope that we need to stop before we all find ourselves slipping down the hill and into a dark chasm. Already, we can forecast those that like the rancour and increasing anti-media sentiments will say that we are being alarmist; that we live in a free society where we are left to do our work peacefully. But the reality is a bit different.
Antigua and Barbuda is indeed a peaceful place, but it is not immune to the anti-media wave that is flooding the world. Already the name-calling has become normal.
OBSERVER media has been labelled a “threat to Antigua and Barbuda” that will be “dealt with,” and one of our journalists has been called a “media bully” by none other than the Prime Minister, in a face-to-face, live, on-air interview. And when the leader of the nation can show such disdain for the media and the journalists in society, then it sets an example for others to follow, emulate and advance.
And while your political affiliation may cause you to cheer from the side-lines, that slippery slope that we discussed earlier is being lubricated. For example, in the past couple of years, there have been numerous attacks on our organisation and our staff. And, yes, we used the word “attacks” deliberately because that is the best description of the type of activity that we have witnessed.
Our journalists have been exposed to threats of physical violence to the point where they will not venture into certain areas or situations without security. Online, the power of anonymity reveals the worst in people and clearly demonstrates where we are and where we are going (most of those comments go unpublished). And then there is politically inspired financial pressure. As well, our building and employees’ vehicles have been sabotaged. In at least two incidents, the wheel lugs on employees’ or visitors’ cars have been loosened or removed, and, in one case, a tire was slashed. Luckily, in all the cases, serious damage and/or harm was averted by the vigilance of the employees.
In cases such as these, we think of the worst-case scenario because we realise it is a definite possibility. Imagine the wheel, or wheels, falling off of vehicle and causing it to to careen off the road into a ditch or lamppost, or into oncoming traffic. Seriously, take a moment to imagine it because it could have happened.
The crazy thing is that politics has made people hardened, unsympathetic and uncaring. Gone are the days when politicians could take criticism and deal with the “knock” in a diplomatic manner without getting personal and calling names. And once they do, their followers feel emboldened to do the same and maybe take it to the next level on their behalf.
We know that there will be more than a few who will label us whinning cry-babies, and some will even say that we know the risks of the job, but in those statements, you will find the problem. Threats to life and limb should not be part of any journalist’s job. And it is for this exact reason that UNESCO has called for the end of impunity for crimes against journalists worldwide.
Antigua and Barbuda is too small to follow the rest of the world down this anti-media road. In fact, we would say that the world is too small for this type of rhetoric and behaviour. Beyond what we have already discussed, what seems to be lost is the basic understanding of the value of journalism in any society. Journalists inform, educate and protect society from the excesses of power because unchecked power will corrupt.
For the relationship between power and corruption, we refer you to the historian and moralist known simply as Lord Acton. He expressed his opinion on the relationship between the two in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. In it, he said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Adding, “Great men are almost always bad men.”
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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