Editorial: The way it should be

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It was quite encouraging to see and hear the ministers of government in a Town Hall-style question-andanswer with the citizenry yesterday. This was the second year in which the members of government made themselves available to the media and the public in a noholds-barred sharing of joys and concerns. We certainly commend the Gaston Browne administration for keeping alive this most worthy initiative.
Especially since one of the mottos that inform our mission is, “Let There Be Light!” Of course, there are many governments that eschew the light, and much like roaches, they will scurry for cover whenever the light switch is thrown. We want to believe that our government is not one of those sunlightaverse administrations. Remember, now that the honeymoon with John Q. Public is over – what with the unanswered questions surrounding Odebrecht, MP Michael, the convoluted story involving Senator Freeland and, what some see as the underwhelming performance of the administration, among other things, the government could very easily have scrapped the Cabinet Report, 2017. They could have produced an excuse as to why the confab with the public was being cancelled.
But to their credit, they did not, and we applaud the good-faith effort to face the public, answer the tough questions, and give an account of their stewardship. This is the way it ought to be, and the government deserves kudos! Of course, there were a few occasions during the ‘Town Hall’ where some of the tough questions were disdainfully ignored and brushed aside. Some of those questions had to do with MP Asot Michael and Senator Michael Freeland.
For example, when asked about the good senator, in keeping with his oft-repeated declaration that the Michael Freeland matter is closed/settled/whatever, the PM responded that he “did not know” and that any further questions pertaining to Michael Freeland should be addressed to the good senator himself. Then there was this lowlight when, in response to a fairly simple and straightforward question, one of our reporters was told that “He pass his place!”
We are not sure how our intrepid reporter asking for enlightenment on an important matter of state, can be dismissed in such a perfunctory manner. Meanwhile, as if taking a cue from the dear leader, some of the MP’s took turns excoriating us for merely doing our jobs – that of “Shining a light,” “Speaking truth to power,” and “Giving a voice to the voiceless.” Consider. The good minster of health threw major shade when he suggested that we were focussing only on the negatives in every story and ignoring the positives.
He cited our coverage of the consultation with the people of Potters on the new cemetery in Tomlinsons. Our scribe reported that while about 40 persons attended the meeting, and “There appeared [to be] a general sense of acceptance,” a handful of the attendees raised traffic and flooding concerns. We thought that we’d given a fair and balanced account of what happened at that Town-Hall-style consultation, but the good minister begged to differ, and saw a monster of bias lurking behind the fact that the voices of those who raised concerns made it into print and the radio.
We are still scratching our heads at how else we could have reported that meeting, short of saying that everyone sat around, drank from the communal cup and sang GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH. This instinctive and knee-jerk reaction to even the most benign questions from those of us of the Fourth Estate is not helpful to the cause of transparency and democracy. There ought not to be a hostile and combative relationship between the press and the putative servants of the people a la Donald Trump and CNN and NBC.
We urge those in our government who are of that unhelpful bent to cease and desist in their relentless (and opportunistic) attacks on the media. We subscribe to the notion, as so beautifully articulated by Abraham Lincoln, “Where the press is free and every man is able to read, all are safe!” And we are soldiers in that noble effort to keep Antigua and Barbuda safe.
Again, we salute the Gaston Browne-administration for bravely fielding questions from the press and the public. Apart from the brushed-aside questions, there appeared to be an attempt to be as forthcoming as possible. The next few months will reveal whether the answers to many of the questions were as honest as they now appear. And of course, we leave it to the public to assess the grade for Cabinet’s performance in 2017.

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